Study: Emergency Room Interpreters Can Save Lives

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2012 | Medical Malpractice

A recent study highlights the ill effects that the 25 million Americans with limited English proficiency uniquely suffer when they seek medical help.

The study, conducted at two pediatric emergency rooms, found that when a professional interpreter was provided for Spanish-speaking families, these patients are about half as likely to suffer from emergency room errors.

If a translator was not available or was an amateur, medical mistakes were twice as likely to happen. In addition, it was determined that roughly 12 percent of translation errors cause serious health risks.

If healthcare providers cannot understand the patient that they are treating, the results can be catastrophic. When miscommunication occurs, patients can receive prescriptions for medication to which they are allergic, or prescriptions that cause complications with other conditions or other medication they already take. In the worst cases, patients can end up hospitalized or dead, all because of preventable hospital negligence.

In addition to the benefit of reducing health risks, the study found that having an interpreter cuts healthcare costs and improves the quality of care. When care providers cannot clearly understand patient needs, they order unnecessary tests. This creates more expense than is needed to solve medical issues.

When an interpreter is available, who pays for the services is a difficult issue. Although federal law requires hospitals to provide interpreters in some cases, it does not require the government or insurance companies to pay for them. Some states have laws that require insurance companies to reimburse their policyholders for costs associated with translation services, but the majority does not, leaving families to pay out of pocket.

Though the financial burden of interpreters is a complicated issue, one simple reality is quite clear: emergency room interpreters help to save lives. If you or a loved one has been injured due to non-English speaking miscommunications, please contact an experienced attorney to explore your legal options.


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