Doctor visits can be stressful. They can be even more stressful if there is a language barrier blocking effective communication between the patient and the doctor. Professional medical interpretation services are crucial for situations where the parties do not speak the same language and cannot clearly understand each other. Even more, Professional medical interpretation becomes absolutely paramount when the patient is an elderly individual with diminished mental ability.
Consider the following statistics:
Combine those statistics with commonly known effects of aging. Cognitive skills such as acquiring a new language begin to fade. Elderly are also less likely to work, due to retirement and health related issues that affect their energy level, often times impacting their financial stability.
The Problem of Shortage of Interpreters
Less than a year ago, we posted a blog (Raising the bar on Medical Interpretation Services) regarding the problematic situations of shortage of interpreters, in which children are forced into telling a parent that they have a serious illness because they are the interpreter in the medical consult. Such problems occur due to a shortage of qualified medical interpreters.
The shortage exists still today, as some states- such as Oregon, have only a small percentage of medical interpreters with the qualifications to deliver their much needed service: Out of 3500 medical interpreters in Oregon, only about 100 have the right qualifications. For elderly patients in Oregon, this means they would only have a 3% chance of booking a qualified or certified interpreter to help them communicate effectively with a doctor.
With these facts in mind, how could one not be concerned about the quality- let alone availability- of trained and qualified professional medical interpreters? With the elderly, we are dealing with an age group that needs access to quality medical care more than any other. Additionally, they cannot afford to be shopping around for different health care providers simply because they were unable to communicate and be understood in a different language.
The form of interpretation that takes place in a medical setting is consecutive interpretation. In this setting, a medical interpreter renders what is said from both the doctor and the patient into each of their respective native languages. To illustrate, the interpreter might first listen to the patient and convey to the doctor (in the doctor’s native language) what the patient just said. As the doctor responds, the interpreter listens and then conveys to the patient (in the patient’s native language) what the doctor just said. As you can probably tell, a medical interpreter is a skillful job that demands thorough listening skills, high proficiency in the languages involved, and knowledge of the appropriate vocabulary.
Action Must be Taken
I am certain that several of you will be able to relate, as this can easily happen to your own parents or grandparents if they are speakers of native languages other than English. According to Federal law, language access is a protected civil right, and many states and localities have enacted specific requirements for language services for elderly with limited English proficiency. We must continue in our efforts to increase the pool of well trained and qualified medical interpreters to support our elderly community.