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Credentialed Healthcare Interpreters Can Help Reduce Healthcare Disparities
Dec 24, 2010

Common sense tells us that you can’t treat or cure an illness without accurately communicating the diagnosis and treatment plan to the patient in the patient’s language. The healthcare interpreter credentialing program provided by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) ensures that bilingual interpreters are qualified and competent to interpret critical diagnostic and treatment information in a healthcare setting, thus increasing the quality of care and reducing health care disparities in minority communities. Limited-English proficient individuals are at risk for health disparities for these reasons:

  1. Using family members or untrained individuals as interpreters: Many healthcare providers rely on family members, friends or untrained staff who do not have the language proficiency, knowledge of medical terminology in a non-English language, and requisite skills and abilities to provide competent interpreting. The use of untrained family members and friends to interpret for non-English speaking patients has been associated with omissions, additions, substitutions, volunteered opinions, and semantic errors. This can result in serious distortions of the content of physician and patient exchanges and lead to significant harm to patients.
  2. Inability to understand or communicate vital medical information in a healthcare setting: Language barriers lead to the poor exchange of information, loss of important cultural information, misunderstanding of physician instruction, decreased adherence with medication regimes, poor appointment attendance and decreased satisfaction with services. One study reports that over one quarter of LEP patients who needed, but did not get, an interpreter reported they did not understand their medication instructions, compared with only 2% of those who did not need an interpreter and those who needed and received one. Health care providers surveyed in Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, and Miami found language difficulties to be a major barrier to immigrants’ access to health care and a serious threat to the quality of the medical care they received.
  3. Use of the emergency room for primary care: LEP patients relying on emergency rooms for their primary care do not receive timely attention and often are treated only when conditions get worse. Once at the emergency room, they receive far fewer services than do English speaking patients. In one study, LEP patients in a pediatric emergency department were found to use more medical resources (time and tests) than other patients. Asthmatic patients who did not speak the same language as their physicians were less likely to keep scheduled office appointments and more likely to miss follow up appointments and use the emergency room than those who spoke the language of their physicians.

Credentialed interpreters can help alleviate these issues since LEP patients will feel more confident accessing interpreters instead of relying on family members or delaying care and using high-cost emergency rooms and healthcare providers will be ensured of accurate and effective communication.

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