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Interpreters in Hospitals

by Divine Grayson (‘23) 

  September 15-October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. One point in healthcare has come up during this month. The lack of interpreters in hospitals is a problem that immigrants have been talking about for years. According to Reuters Health, nearly ⅓ of all hospitals in the U.S. do not offer interpreters in any capacity (1). This leads to children, some as young as four, trying to interpret what their parents say to the healthcare professional and vice versa. Since kids lack understanding or even knowledge of medical jargon, they may not interpret their doctor or their parents correctly. They could also have no one at all to interpret what the doctor is saying to the patient and vice versa. This leads to dangerous situations for not only the patient, but the healthcare provider as well. One of the most affected groups are immigrants.

The gap in communication when it comes is the patients telling their doctors about their ailments has caused doctors to misdiagnose these patients. This can result in that patient getting worse and possibly dying from their condition. The opposite is also true: doctors cannot effectively communicate with their patients. The patients are lost because they couldn’t understand the doctor and end up not treating their diagnosis properly. This can not only cause short-term harm to the patient, but also create mistrust in the healthcare system. If they keep getting misdiagnosed and keep going to different doctors for one problem to be fixed, then they may think, why go to the doctor in the first place. That in itself can cause more harm than good. Depending on the person, some may need the doctor or any healthcare professional more than others and just push through obvious problems because of past experiences with healthcare services. Then, their conditions may worsen by not addressing the pertinent issue at hand. In a study where there was interpreter access 24 hours a day showed more informed consent, improved comprehension, and improved clinical outcomes (2). I will like to mention that some hospitals cannot provide quality interpretation services due to not being funded enough to have interpreters on site. However, even big hospitals within a diverse city do not offer these services in-person or don’t offer them at all.  

There is a lack of enforcement by hospital administrators and the U.S. government at the local, state, and federal levels. Many hospitals view immigrants — those who most likely need an interpreter —as people lacking health insurance and therefore not being paid back as quickly. This stereotype is not true. Many immigrants have insurance through various jobs. They have jobs like other Americans with similar benefits. Hospitals tend to devalue immigrants down to dollar signs and fail to recognize their needs in the healthcare field. Immigrants are human and deserve to be heard and treated like anyone else in the healthcare setting. Not providing quality healthcare to any patient is ethically and morally wrong. The fear in immigrants’ hearts and minds is justified and can hurt those communities in the long run. The people who need the interpreters are often scared from even going forward with action because the hospital has a team of lawyers to defend their position, while immigrants often don’t have lawyers at the ready to help them with this kind of case. The lack of concern that hospital administrators feel towards these patients tells you how much you need to know about these hospitals’ values towards all kinds of people.  

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