A health care bill recently passed by Congress raises the question on the way language services are used in the health care industry. The need for accuracy in translation services in health care is extremely important, as the consequences of a poor translation can be fatal.
California became the first state to pass a law requiring that health insurance organizations provide interpretation and translation services to patients with limited English proficiency. In some states there are also requirements on pharmacies to post signs letting customers know they offer translation services, which must include interpretation and translation of medication labels, guidance on how to take the prescription and information on warnings. These services can be provided over the phone, in person, or by a third-party contractor.
In order to comply with the new legislation, some New York pharmacies use unedited computer translation output. Relying on computer translation can result in disaster. Some computer errors include translating "once a day" into "eleven times a day" -- an error resulting from the fact that "once" is also a Spanish word meaning "eleven".
When in comes to medical care, there is no room for translation error. In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Glenn Flores gave a couple of powerful real-life examples of the effects of these kinds of mistakes. He told of a Spanish-speaking 18-year-old who collapsed on his girlfriend’s floor after telling her he felt “intoxicado”. When the girlfriend and her mother repeated the word to English-speaking paramedics, they took it to mean “intoxicated” rather than “nauseated” and treated the patient for drug overdose. Thirty-six hours later, the patient was reevaluated and it was found that he was suffering from hematomas (blood clots) around his brain. Tragically, the misdiagnosis resulted in quadriplegia, and the hospital paid $71 million in the ensuing malpractice suit. In another example, Indiana-based Mead Johnson Nutritionals recalled 4.6 million cans of Nutramigen Baby Formula in 2001 due to misleading Spanish directions on bilingual labels. Fortunately, the problem was caught before any infants were adversely affected, but the cost of recalling and re-labeling the cans was exorbitant. Although hiring a translator or interpreter may have seemed unnecessary to these institutions beforehand, they paid dearly for the resulting mistakes.
As states continue to change the laws, accurate translation and interpretation within the healthcare system is in clear demand. Persons with limited English proficiency need to have access to reliable and safe information. Health care providers who make use of professional language services can protect both themselves and their consumers from the costly -- and potentially deadly -- consequences of a poor translation.
One company that specializes in healthcare and medical translation and interpretation is Rapport International. Rapport International can provide quality translation in over 100 languages.