Healthcare News & Insights

One way to lower medical errors in ER

When non-English-speaking patients go to the emergency room, typically someone can translate for them, such as a family member or a hospital employee. But that’s not the best option for patients or hospitals.

A new study, which was done in two pediatric ERs, suggests that having professional translators – not a patient’s family member – in the ER may lower medical errors by limiting miscommunications.

When the translator was an amateur (family  member or a hospital employee) the amount of translation slips – omitting or adding certain words or phrases –that had potential health risks was 20% to 22%.

When a professional translator was available to Spanish-speaking families, 12% of translation slips could have had medical consequences, such as giving a wrong medication dose.

And when translators had 100 hours of training or more the translation slips dropped to only 2% having the potential for doing harm.

Approximately 25 million Americans have limited English proficiency, and the law requires U.S. hospitals that receive federal funds to offer some type of translation help for these patients. That can be a heavy financial burden for hospitals with already limited budgets.

However, other studies have already shown that having a translator may improve care and actually cut costs. Getting the proper treatment, medication and guidance for home care lowers the risk of unnecessary tests or patients having to return to the ER.

This study shows the added benefits of having a “professional” translator – avoiding potentially dangerous doctor/patient miscommunications.

Unfortunately, while federal law requires hospitals to provide an interpreter, it doesn’t require government or private insurance to pay for them, leaving hospitals and the taxpayers to cover the costs.

However, some hospitals in California are proving that the cost doesn’t have to be significant. The facilities have joined together to offer translators by phone and audioconference, which only costs $25 per patient.

Does your facility offer translators for your non-English-speaking patients? If so, what kind (in-person, audioconference or phone)? Share your experiences in the box below.


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