Study looks at medical complications and translators

There's No Substitute for Experience

While there are many different things that can happen in a hospital or doctor's office to lead to a serious medical emergency, a recent study determined that miscommunication between a Spanish-speaking patient and a medical professional can lead to serious complications. And while having a translator on staff can reduce the chance of a “clinical consequence,” which could result in a serious personal injury, just who is in charge of translation also plays a role.

The study, which was published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, was based on 57 primarily Spanish-speaking families who were seen at one of two pediatric emergency rooms. Twenty of those families had communication help from a professional interpreter. Ten had no translator whatsoever and 27 had help from an amateur translator.

According to the study, the chance of a medical issue, like a patient being given the wrong medication dosage, was twice as high for those families who either had no interpreter, or who had an amateur translator.

An example of an “amateur translator” would be a family friend. In one case, a family friend told a doctor that a child did not have any drug allergies and was not taking any medications. However, that friend had said this without first asking the mother of the child if this was actually true.

Differences in terms of the potential of a translation slip were also seen among interpreters. For example, those with more than 100 hours of training had a lower instance of translation errors as opposed to those with less than 100 hours of training.

When looking at the findings of this study, the results speak volumes as there are 25 million U.S. residents who speak English “less than well.” This means that the differences between having a professional well-trained translator or a family friend or someone who is an amateur translator could mean a world of difference when it comes to the safety of a patient.

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