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Direct communication in the medical field is vital especially when it comes to mental health and counselling. Interaction between mental health professionals and their clients is different from general healthcare. It requires closeness, trust, and a deeper understanding of each other. However, with the presence of a language barrier between the client and the psychologist, the need for best practices in medical interpreting and language services becomes essential.
I looked into some experts regarding the medical interpretation, and this is what they have to say about this matter. For Tomedes, a language service provider, medical interpretations have to be versatile through the number of language pairs being offered and the means they’re providing their services, especially now with the pandemic remote interpreting has become an ever-increasing demand. In 2019 Slator, a language industry and information provider, reported that the US healthcare interpreting market was around USD 1.1 billion. Currently, due to the pandemic, Slator discovered that 83% of the interpreters in the survey have reported that remote simultaneous interpretation was ‘more difficult’. Incorrect interpretations can lead to misunderstandings and negatively affect the patient’s well-being. This just won’t do because, in an article written by the American Journal of Psychiatry, medical providers are professionally and ethically obligated to treat their patients to standard, including Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals through medical interpretation.
Today, there are more than 25 million Limited English Proficient (LEP) in the US and the language barrier in mental health facilities is becoming a greater issue. Aside from the possibilities of misunderstandings and misdiagnosis, patients tend to become wary of not speaking the same language as their medical practitioners.
In response to these recurring issues, the US government has implemented federal laws requiring medical interpretations and translations in all hospitals and health facilities receiving funds from the government. This anti-discrimination provision is under the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It aims to prevent the increasing number of misdiagnoses, malpractices, and non-consensual medical procedures due to the language barrier.
Moreover, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 1554 was amended last 2016 to include the right of the LEP patients to sue healthcare providers with language access violations. Once an institution is proven guilty of discriminatory acts, it may have to pay a large sum of money for compensation and may affect the integrity of the hospital.
Despite that, a large number of hospitals still fall short of providing essential language support for LEP patients. According to a survey from American Hospital Association, only about 56% of the 4586 hospitals that participated provides translation access to their patients In the end, these patients have no choice but to rely on their friends and families to be their ad hoc interpreters which can still be problematic considering their lack of professional knowledge.
Some hospitals argue that acquiring professional hospitals is just too expensive and is just an additional cost. They also believe that hiring bilingual employees and having some family members help LEP patients is enough. While there is still no cost-benefit analysis done for using medical interpreters in medical institutions, we still can’t deny the various benefits that it can offer both for the practitioners and their patients.
First, medical interpreting bridges the language gap and increases access to mental health care. Diagnosing mental health patients can be complicated as it mostly requires verbal interviews and written examinations rather than physical tests. Thus, communication is an essential factor to understand the emotional and mental state of patients and deliver accurate diagnoses.
Despite that, the California Department of Mental Health’s Consumer and Services Information System says that LEP persons were 55% less likely to continue community mental health visits than English speakers. This is because they do not want to suffer from discomfort, the unreliability of findings, and the rejection of hospitals. However, the presence of medical interpreters in counselling can help them be at ease and continue their sessions.
Aside from that, medical interpreters can make getting the patient’s full consent for medical treatments and therapies much easier. Informing the patients about their health results and medical treatments is an essential part of medical ethics for mental healthcare. Some of these treatments may be distressing or traumatic for the patient as medical providers try to push the limits of their patients. Moreover, some treatments require hospitalization and taking in drugs with potential side effects and other people may not be comfortable with these measures.
With the help of medical interpreters and document translations, it will be easier to inform LEP persons about the therapies and medications that they will need. The hospital can even earn the patient’s cooperation in the medical processes.
Lastly, medical interpreting prevents misdiagnosis in mental health institutions. Mental illnesses are sensitive matters that require a deep understanding and immediate attention. A small mistake in the diagnosis of a patient can lead to injury and death. There are also some cases where improper treatments cause suicidal tendencies which is the worst that can happen to a patient.
To treat psychiatric disorders properly, medical interpretation plays a great role in medical institutions. They ensure that there are proper diagnoses and that the patients understand the importance of their medications and counselling. Moreover, they can inform the patients and their families about the side effects of these treatments and what they can do when something happens.
These are only some of the benefits that LEP patients and hospitals could get from getting medical interpreters and translators. If mental health institutions are still waiting for a cost-benefit analysis before doing this, they will not only breach the federal laws but will also lose the trust of their patients, especially multilingual and LEP persons.
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