Study Shows Professional Interpreters in ER May Decrease Medical Errors

It is estimated that 25 million US residents have limited ability to communicate in English. This is a recipe for medical errors and mistakes, in a hospital setting, especially in the country emergency rooms. That’s why the latest study published by the Annals of Emergency Medicine is provocative and important.
According to Reuters, “The findings document that interpreter errors of potential clinical consequence are significantly more likely to occur when there is an ‘ad hoc’ or no interpreter, compared with a professional interpreter,” said lead researcher Glenn Flores, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Federal law requires hospitals to provide interpretation services in those institutions that receive federal funding. Besides funding such an endeavor, training is key to the actual reduction of medical errors or miscommunication.
“Errors were least common when the interpreters had 100 hours of training or more. In these cases, only two percent of their translation slips had the potential for doing the child harm.
Few training programs for medical interpreters provide at least 100 hours of training, Flores said. Even when hospitals run their own programs, the hours involved vary widely.
“These findings suggest that requiring at least 100 hours of training for interpreters might have a major impact on reducing interpreter errors and their consequences in health care, while improving quality and patient safety,” the researchers wrote.