The High Stakes of Misinterpreting Patients: Leave Medical Translation Services to the Professionals!

March 14, 2018 |

The necessity of hiring professional interpreters or translators, especially using medical translation services, is often overlooked. When we encounter clients who are considering using professional linguistic services for the first time, they often wonder if they “really” need to hire professionals. However, those with the most experience in the healthcare industry know medical translation services can save lives.

medical translation services

In a continually globalized world, language barriers affect our daily professional lives and interactions are more and more. Professional linguists help individuals get the services they need regardless of the language they speak. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the medical industry where unclear communication puts patients at risk. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of medical translation services and best practices to prevent injuries and save lives.

One Tragic Story

 Everyone knows that when patients cannot communicate sufficiently with medical staff, the stakes are high. Unfortunately, too many in the medical industry assume that they can rely on bilingual staff and family members to bridge any communication gaps.

There are several problems with this policy and the story of 18-year-old baseball player, Willie Ramirez, tragically illustrates the real consequences of failing to use professional medical translation services.

In 1980, Ramirez was transported to a South Florida hospital via ambulance and arrived in a coma. His family, whose first language was Spanish, used the word “intoxicado” when speaking to emergency personel. The word “intoxicado” in Spanish means something ingested. It can refer to food, a drug, poison, or anything else that could make a person sick when ingested.

The family thought that Ramirez had eaten something that caused his symptoms. But the interpreter translated “intoxicado” as “intoxicated.” So the doctor diagnosed him with a drug overdose. It wasn’t until days later that his healthcare team realized the problem was actually bleeding in his brain. But by then, Ramirez had suffered lasting damage. Had his family’s description been interpreted correctly, there’s a good chance doctors could have treated him more quickly and more accurately. Sadly, he ended up a quadriplegic.

This is simply one tragic story among too many. In medical situations, doctors and hospitals often turn to bilingual staff or family members for help with interpreting and this is problematic. Beyond the chance that important medical details will be misunderstood—which is certainly a major concern—imagine the trauma that a child, even an adult child, would experience having to interpret a parent’s cancer diagnosis. 

Benefits of Hiring Professional Linguists

 The obvious benefit of medical providers hiring professional linguists to provide medical translation services is better patient care. But there are additional benefits that may be overlooked, such as reducing the average length of hospital stays and lowering readmission rates.

One study showed that among patients with limited English proficiency, those who did not work with a professional language interpreter at the point of admission or both at admission and discharge, had an average increase in their length of stay of between .75 and 1.47 days. It also showed that patients receiving interpretation services were less likely than those who did not receive such services to be readmitted within 30 days.

In addition, professional medical translation services increase patient satisfaction, which leads to decreased hospital costs. While many medical providers site budgetary limitations as a reason they do not provide adequate language access services for their patients, they fail to consider the costs they bear because of unaddressed language barriers.

Another study showed that having a Spanish-speaking attending physician significantly increased Spanish-speaking patients’ satisfaction with their physician, overall hospital experience, and reduced ER visits, thereby reducing costs by $92 per Spanish-speaking patient over the study period.

Your language service provider (LSP) will provide two basic services: medical translation and medical interpreting.

  • Medical translators provide linguistic services for written text (e.g., hospital record translation, translating instructions for taking medications, translating health information, and translation for brochures).
  • Medical interpreters provide linguistic assistance for spoken communication (e.g., during patient-doctor visits).

Both of these medical translation services can save lives and result in better outcomes for patients. 

Best Practices for Choosing Medical Translation Services

When looking for the right language service provider, it’s important to keep the following tips in mind for best results:

  • Find translators and interpreters who are proficient in both the source and target languages.
  • Make sure that translation professionals have subject matter expertise as well as linguistic expertise. This ensures that they are familiar with specific terminology, requirements, and the writing style of the industry.
  • Make sure that any written documents go through a thorough quality assurance process, so that there are no mistakes.
  • Don’t cut corners. If your patient population has a need for translation in several pairs of languages, you aren’t likely to get away with hiring one professional.
  • Look for language service providers that can provide experts in multiple languages and medical specialties.

Medical translation services and medical interpretation services are more than ancillary benefits. They are necessary services for healthcare providers. Even small communication mistakes cost much more than money. They cost lives. Make sure you are doing all you can to ensure the safety and quality of life of your patients.

Contact Alpha Omega Translations and let’s discuss your need for medical translation services. We’ll walk you through the process and make sure your bases are covered. Or if you’re ready to get started on your project, get your free quote today!

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Category: Translation Services

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