In most situations in life, a misunderstanding is something to laugh over. It’s a cute plot in a sitcom. “OH! I thought you said JUMP, not PUMP!” The misinterpretation is corrected, and they all live happily ever after. But what happens when a patient misunderstands a doctor’s instructions? That story doesn’t often have a happy ending.

Just over 40% of Americans have Limited English Proficiency. This means that their ability to speak and understand the English language is, well, limited. So what does this mean for you? Well, chances are nearly half of the patients that come through your medical practice will have a hard time understanding you. They may have a hard time reading the pamphlets you give them. And, at the end of the day, they can’t reliably give informed consent to any medical procedures. In short, the language barrier could prove fatal.

Can’t they just bring a family member along?

In an ideal world, yes. In fact, most people should have the assistance of a family member when navigating the medical system. When you’re unwell, or getting bad news, it is incredibly helpful to have a family member on hand to ask questions, take notes, and generally support.

But not everyone has family on hand. For someone new to the country, they may not know anyone at all. Or maybe their family isn’t much more proficient in English than your patient. Maybe your patient has arrived in an emergency situation, and you can’t even get in contact with family until you’ve got an interpreter present.

And, let’s face it – sometimes patients aren’t ready to tell their families what’s going on with them, health-wise. They should be allowed confidential services, just like a native English speaker. That’s where a professional interpreter comes in.

Why you need a professional interpreter

A professional interpreter is fluent in English as well as whichever language your patient is most comfortable communicating in. They can translate your patient’s questions, concerns, and symptoms to you clearly, and without any of the editorializing that so often happens in family dynamics. If your patient says her foot has been hurting for two weeks, you’ll get that information clearly and succinctly.

A professional interpreter is familiar with medical procedures and terminology. They can effortlessly translate your questions so your patient knows exactly what’s being asked of them. They can explain procedures thoroughly, so your patient can give truly informed consent. And, they can make sure your patient understands your instructions, including how and when to take medications, and any side-effects they need to watch out for.

You may need translation services, too

If you have paperwork you need your patients to sign – consent forms, intake forms, etc. – you’ll need them translated into your patient’s native language. If they need to be able to reference their own copy, they need to be able to understand it.

Do you have pamphlets you hand to patients to familiarize themselves with testing, risk factors, and medical conditions? If you know you serve a large Spanish-speaking population, it makes sense to have Spanish translations of all your pamphlets on hand.

At UNO Translations and Communications, we can provide you with interpretation and translation services as you need them, when you need them. We can help you provide consistent care to all your patients, regardless of their first language. We’re available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for over-the-phone interpretation services in more than 200 languages. No matter what language your patient speaks, we’re here to help.

If you know what kind of assistance you’re looking for, you can request a free quote now. You can also reach us by phone at 571-333-5515.

Don’t let your Limited English Proficient patients get less than your best. Let us help you help them.

Why It’s Important To Use a Professional Interpreter in Your Medical Practice