Experts in healthcare interpretation services have found that qualified
interpreters can improve the care for limited English proficiency patients.
The National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare is an organization dedicated to creating equal access to health care through accurate interpretation and translation. Besides advocating for interpretation rights for patients, the organization also provides training for interpreters.
Healthcare interpreting can take place in many different settings. Hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, home visits, and public health presentations all involve different kinds of crucial health conversations, and it’s essential for this information to be properly understood by the patient. Interpreting may be necessary between doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers, and the patient and their family members, depending on the situation.
What is a Qualified Interpreter?
The NCIHC advocates for qualified interpreters to be made available in any situation where the healthcare professional and patient don't speak the same language. The organization makes an important distinction between someone who is simply bilingual, and a qualified interpreter. The NCIHC defines a qualified interpreter as someone who is highly proficient in both languages, who has the necessary medical expertise, and has been specifically trained to accurately facilitate communication between two parties, while adhering to a strict code of ethics. Some bilingual staff members may be able provide interpreting assistance, but the overall rate of medical errors is higher when untrained bilingual staff serve as interpreters. And when a bilingual employee is constantly pulled away from their job to assist with interpreting requests, it can cause their other work to pile up, leading to inefficiencies in other areas of service.
Laws and Policies Concerning Healthcare Interpretation
According to NCIHC, there are several laws and policy statements that require hospitals and other health professionals to provide interpretation services. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act requires interpreters to be provided when there is a sufficient number of persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) served by the facility. If the provider receives Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements from CMS, interpreting services must also be provided for all meetings that are considered of vital importance.
There are several other policy statements that also support the provision of interpretation services similar to Title VI. The responsibility of funding these services rests with the healthcare facility, not with the patient. Some states reimburse the cost of interpretation services through Medicaid, but most do not at this time.
Although certification of interpreters is not required by Title VI or other statutes, ISO 9001 certified interpreters who have at least 100 hours of training have a much lower medical error rate than other interpreters or bilingual personnel.
Interpreters can help patients overcome language barriers to
get the best possible medical care and healthcare services.
Interpretation or Translation?
Although healthcare situations deal frequently with interpretation (the spoken word), there are times when written translation services are also needed. Documents like health records and patient education materials often need to be translated for quality of care to be maintained. In fact, making sure that patients fully understand their post-care and discharge instructions is crucial not only for the patients’ speedy recovery, but also for the provider’s bottom line. Hospitals are subject to a penalty for excess readmission rates, and unnecessary readmissions can often be easily avoided by ensuring clear, precise communication with the patient early on.
NCIHC encourages healthcare facilities to investigate starting an interpreter services program, both to comply with government statutes and to provide the best possible patient care. The NCIHC website provides detailed information about providing these services and offers other kinds of support through membership and enrollment.
Communication is at the heart of healthcare, and Dynamic Language provides interpretation services for healthcare facilities through in-person and remote interpreters as needed. We would be glad to meet with your facility representative to explain how our certified interpreters can help provide quality care to your LEP patients and increase patient satisfaction. Contact us today to learn more.