Emergency Room Language Interpreters help to reduce medical errors
A new study suggests that having professional language translators for non-English speaking patients in hospital emergency rooms can help limit potentially dangerous miscommunication, the consequences of which could even be life threatening
The study, conducted at two pediatric ERs and published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, found that mistakes which could have 'clinical consequences,' like giving the wrong dose of medication, were about twice as likely if there were no medical interpreters or if the translator was an amateur.
According to lead researcher Glenn Flores, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, 'The findings document that interpreter errors of potential clinical consequence are significantly more likely to occur when there is an 'ad hoc' or no interpreter, compared with a professional interpreter.'
An estimated 25 million U.S. residents have limited English proficiency. In other words they say they speak the language less than 'very well.'
By law, U.S. hospitals that receive federal funds have to offer some type of translation assistance for those patients. That can mean a professional interpreter who works for the hospital or telephone or video-based translation services.
Studies have found that patients prefer to have a translator available, and that this may improve care and reduce costs, by avoiding unnecessary tests, for example. But it had not been clear how well professional interpreters performed against amateurs, or against no interpreter at all.
A number of questions still remain about professional interpreters, such as whether in-person interpreters are more effective than phone or video interpreters and what are the most cost-effective measures, Flores said.
ER Interpreter, Photo: blog.schumachergroup.com