Here’s a dose of bad news from the Hastings Center on the failures of medical interpretation and the resulting harm to patients.
In this recent essay, Medical Interpretation in the U.S. is Inadequate and Harming Patients, a team of writers observe that there’s a shortage of in-person medical interpreters, which has led hospitals to turn to machine language tools such as Google Translate. You’re more likely to end up in the ballpark if the language in question is Spanish, but watch out if it is, for instance, Chinese. Studies that compare Spanish and Chinese interpretations found that errors are more common in Chinese and more likely to present life-threatening harm.
Throw in a lack of cultural competence training among staff interpreters, and the consequences can include delayed emergency care for children, an increase in errors and costs, and a decrease in care quality and patient satisfaction.
The Hastings Center report goes beyond the mere translation of words and digs deeper into the nuances of the medical exchange. “Expecting patients to adhere to Western constructs of health communication is unfair and unjust,” writers Riya Dahima, Melinda Luo and Vrushali Dhongade contend. “We must consider how linguistic differences and cultural values impact patients’ expectations and decision-making.”