Healthcare & Medical Interpretation Services in Situations Like COVID-19
A 2013 National Institutes of Health report suggests some 25.5 million people, which is about 8.5% of the US population, were LEP or Limited English Proficient.
The same report reveals that about 43% of healthcare providers encounter LEP patients daily while 80% encounter LEP persons year-round. Its implications are severely felt by patients, more so now in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lack of healthcare facilities in the patients’ mother tongue weighs heavily on healthcare systems and has been held responsible for many suboptimal health outcomes by NIH in its report.
The higher rates of disability, psychological distress, and mental illness have been reported in LEP patients. This is also tied to the fact LEP persons visit doctors less regularly compared to linguistically proficient patients.
LEP patients find it hard to communicate freely; comprehending the information doctors provide is nearly impossible as it’s steeped in complex medical terminology. The lack of interpreter services further worsen the situation and pushes more people out of healthcare facilities.
Doctors’ aren’t the only saviours of life, medical interpreters are too
Medical interpreters are an asset to any healthcare system, actively involved in what’s called saving lives. That calls for medical interpretation services to be made integral to healthcare systems, without which universal health coverage, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, seems far-fetched – a feat impossible to achieve.
The aim should be to narrow the gap between healthcare facilities and the linguistic divide existing within all modern globalized societies so that patients from across the spectrum can benefit, not the linguistically compatible few.
Scenarios in which healthcare interpreting is indispensable
The need for healthcare interpreters is never off the table. So far we’ve been overlooking it but as we’re being engulfed by medical emergencies of all sorts, our callousness lies exposed. From the NIH report we shared earlier, it’s easier to deduce how we’ve failed to provide inclusive healthcare and decentralize it.
Serving the linguistically privileged isn’t the only motive. Those who’ve been left out, how to bring them under the fold, should be the priority.
Medical interpretation can help bring LEP patients under the fold of mainstream healthcare facilities once they’re allowed the space to communicate in their native language and solve much of their problems previously unsolved.
Presently, the following scenarios render medical interpretation inevitable: COVID-19 pandemic, emigration, and linguistic diversity.
Of the three, linguistic diversity has already been touched upon. But to further comment on it, let’s take the United States, a multilingual country, as an example.
The case for medical interpretation as being pertinent to effective patient care is nothing new. Healthcare professionals have been vouching for it, so have studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health.
Contrary to the expectations of millions, its inclusion in the process of providing care to patients is still a far cry from reality. That is the reason we’ve brought it up today!
Like many countries, the US too has many languages spoken in it. The heart of the matter is, that each language has 160,000 or more speakers.
Let’s borrow the figures from the Census Bureau of the United States.
In its 2015 report, to which we’re linking here, the census bureau reveals that 350+ languages are being spoken in US homes.
Out of all the “minority languages” in the United States, Spanish is widely spoken with over 41 million speakers, constituting the US’s 12% population.
How can you provide healthcare to such a diverse society when they speak so many languages and lack proficiency in English?
Health care should be inclusive, the law demands it, so does human conscience. Whether or not it’s inclusive is a matter of another debate, presently what can make it inclusive is medical interpretation services.
For example, a Spanish medical interpreter may help deliver quality health care to Spanish speaking patients who may otherwise prefer aloofness owing to their English incompetency.
The International Organization for Migration in The Right to Health pegs figures of international migrants worldwide at 200 million, out of which 90 million are migrant workers.
Emigration leads to the further diversification of language, rendering medical interpretation even more important and inevitable.
Healthcare discriminations creep in, bordering on linguistic and cultural differences and migrants bear the brunt.
Furthermore, if patients need translation of medical terms, we must have qualified medical interpreters to do the job: interpret and translate transcripts into their native language, which could put the health of millions at risk.
Today, human migration is at its peak and won’t subside anytime soon. That poses a challenge and calls for healthcare professionals to brace up for the challenge. To tackle and prevent health systems from breaking away, we must onboard medical interpreters. The sooner we do it, the better
That brings us to the third scenario that has made medical interpretation indispensable – COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a global health emergency. So much is at stake with so few resources available to fight it.
The biggest barrier that any crisis throws up is the language. For the right information to reach people, you’ve to wrap it up in their local language to deliver it effectively.
Medical interpreters have been fighting COVID-19 at a footing equally daunting and saving lives by moderating between patients and doctors. As physical distancing norms and lockdowns were imposed, they have been doing the job remotely over the phone.
Of course, the roles are set on how we fight a pandemic. You’ve biochemical researchers, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and other staff doing their chores. And medical interpreters aren’t and weren’t behind in offering interpretation services.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, interpreters have been working tirelessly to help patients comprehend their medical conditions. Patients’ choices about care depend on their understanding of the ailment, its causes and consequences.
Borrowing from a Time magazine report, medical interpreters at Kentucky’s University of Louisville hospital were providing Amharic and Spanish medical translations to 30-40 people with COVID-19 symptoms each day.
Across the United States, some 100,000 interpreters provide interpretation services at hospitals — helping bridge the linguistic gap between doctors and patients. How well patients understand their condition can mean life or death.
What is medical interpretation?
Interpretation refers to the process of converting speech, or spoken words, from one language into another. The process is simultaneous in simultaneous interpretation where spoken words in the original language are translated live into the target language. Whereas in sequential interpretation, interpretation takes place after a speaker has spoken a few sentences.
Medical interpretations take place in hospitals where interpreters moderate between patients and doctors and involve the use of medical terminology. The healthcare system remains incomplete and ineffective if medical interpretation isn’t provided to LEP patients.
In Conclusion: The Indispensability of Medical Interpreting in the Healthcare Sector
In America, the body that controls and authorises medical interpreters is Certification Commission for Health Care Interpreters or CCHI. Its executive director, Natalya Mytareva, once remarked, which pretty much sums up why interpretation matters in crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The gist of what she said is depending upon how well a patient has understood the doctor determines how good a doctor he is. In other words, the diagnosis, examination, and treatment are interlinked to the understanding of the patient, which in turn depends on communication.
Effective communication can happen only when both speakers have a common language, which is rare in the multilingual world we live in.
If a patient fails to convey what ails him due to the language barrier, it might lead to a wrong diagnosis because the information provided was either insufficient or incomprehensible. That just destroys the purpose of health care.
Medical interpreters, on the other hand, can take the doctor-patient understanding to the next level. Resulting in effective diagnosis and better care! However, organisations find it difficult to locate agency for face to face interpreting when you’ve physical movement curtailed due to Covid.
As Covid like situations put restrictions on physical movements, hospitals have found solutions in remote interpretation like Zoom interpretation services. Many interpretation companies like Locate Translate have plunged to fill the void by providing quality interpreting and moderation services to organisations worldwide.
As and when required, this translate company can provide hospitals and professionals interpreting services via phone call or video, in case the in-person interpretation is impossible. However, to uphold patient privacy, interpreters aren’t allowed to use platforms not offering end-to-end encryption.
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