More Choices for Language Access In Hospitals Makes Patients Happy

The emotional outcomes of procedures carried out in hospitals varies widely. For limited English speakers hearing diagnosis and treatment options is deeply personal and frequently overwhelming. Patients often require a nuanced approach for treatment. We’ve learned at least that much during the COVID crisis. Going forward patients should have the opportunity to choose who provides interpretation service and how. Whether its a male or female, or on-site versus video, patients would show increased satisfaction and outcomes if given a choice. 

Let’s consider the case of a child. A hospital is a scary place for some children, especially if they are the patient. Parents of limited English speakers would most likely take advantage of a choice about interpretation if one were offered. Children respond positively to personal interactions and eye contact. Plus, on-site interpreters are able to read non-verbal cues from parents much more easily.

When you cannot communicate with providers, you lie alone wondering what is going on around you. It’s a scary feeling. I traveled to India in the early 2000s and had developed a serious rash.  A doctor comes into the room, briefly glances down at me, and mutters something. The only thing I understood was “chemist”. I gathered I needed to take the prescription written in Hindi, which I don’t understand, to the chemist. The chemist handed me a tube of cream and a few pills wrapped in a newspaper. I didn’t know how often to apply the cream or take the pills.  So, I had to guess.

Now,  if an interpreter were available I doubt I would have had much of a choice. That’s my point. Here in the US, interpretation is a standard of care outlined by the Joint Commission, the medical authority in the US. So, why not offer some choice with regard to interpretation? I cannot comment too much about cost, but I do know the interpreter appearing on the iPad is costly enough. It seems allowing the patients to choose on-site or video, male, female, or whatever is a useful option. Lastly, ensuring the patient sees the same interpreter could be valuable too.

Jennifer Trombley, BSN, RN

Jennifer Trombley, BSN, RN

Jennifer is a Registered Nurse in Austin, TX with over 11 years of nursing experience including work in the E.R., and as an administrator in the Medical/Surgical/Oncology units and Psychiatry. Currently she works as a school nurse.
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