Among the dislocations of the COVID-19 pandemic is the effect on health system interpreters, who are discovering new complexities in the already fraught world of medical interpretation. As revealed in the New York Times story, When Coronavirus Care Gets Lost in Translation, interpreters are increasingly called on to work over the phone in consideration of the lack of protective equipment and the risk of infection. This already difficult situation is rendered more complex by the distance providers attempt to put between themselves and their patients, the muffling effect of masks, and the hiss of oxygen tanks.
“Someone’s oxygen can be dropping and I have to get an interpreter on the phone, wait on hold, put in an access code, tell them where I am,” one Boston doctor said. “It’s hard for the patient. Imagine you’re in a loud room with a mask blowing oxygen in your face at 15 liters a minute and you feel crummy. You can’t comprehend things as much.”
The piece explores this as another health care disparity issue that results in poorer outcomes for non-white patients. Patient advocate Vonessa Costa told the Times, “A pandemic is not the time to build working systems.” She worried about the millions of limited English patients across the country who are now or will be struggling for access to care.