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Why Does It Matter to Have Credentialed Medical Interpreters? (Abstract Version)

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Co-authored by Eric Candle

What is the current landscape of limited English proficiency in the United States?

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are approximately 60 million people in the United States today that speak English less than very well. This is a significant portion of the U.S. population, and the demographics of this country are changing rapidly.

• In addition to Spanish, there are over 170 languages spoken in the United States and approximately every 23 seconds a legal immigrant enters the country. (This amount is significantly greater when you factor in undocumented immigrants)

• The demand for interpreters and translators continues to soar particularly in the areas of healthcare, emergency first respondents and the legal interpreting. As stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics "Employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 46 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven...by large increases in the number of non-English-speaking people in the United States. Job prospects should be best for those who have professional certification."

Why are credentialed medical interpreters important?

• Having no credentialed medical interpreters or not using certified interpreters has long-term negative consequences for patient safety, quality of care, hospital liability and compliance with laws and regulations.

• The landmark case in the industry is the case of Willie Ramirez who was left quadriplegic due to a misdiagnosis. The confusion was centered on the use of the Spanish word "intoxicado" which is not equivalent to the English word "intoxicated". The hospital was found responsible for this egregious error and ordered to pay Mr. Ramirez and his family $71million.

Do Limited English proficient patients require special assistance?

• According to a recent study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10597, HS11416) language barriers may contribute to higher readmission rates for non-English speakers. Since only 14 percent of the non-English speaking patients in the research used professional staff interpreters, the researchers suggest a need to develop and assess best practices for creating a culture of a Professional Interpreter as a part of the Language Access Plan in hospital and clinical settings.

Why is it important to remove a language barrier in a medical setting?

• Removing language and cultural barriers in the provider-patient communication is the vital responsibility of a qualified and certified medical interpreter.

• In addition to patient safety and care concerns, there is a paramount legal requirement that involves adhering to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

What is the importance of a professional certification in modern society?

• A profession requires proper training, testing, credentialing, and in many cases, licensing. Imagine going to a hospital and being told that your doctor or anesthesiologist are not licensed to practice medicine in your State. Every member of any medical team must comply with strict training, assessment and certification requirements.

• Yet, the medical interpreter that can inflict an irreparable harm on the patient is not required to be certified. How can this be possible?

Does the success of healthcare reform in the U.S. depend on access to qualified medical interpreters?

• The success of healthcare reform in the U.S. depends on access to qualified medical interpreters. Approximately one-third or more of the patients expected to gain access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, ACA, are not in the position to communicate with their providers without an interpreter".

• A strong case can be made that if credentialed medical interpreters were used in all encounters, than (1) 30-day hospital readmission rates will be substantially dropped, (2) the cost of tests and procedures needed due to inefficient doctor-patient communication will be dramatically reduced, (3) LEP-patient safety will be radically improved, and (4) provider liabilities will be significantly mitigated.

• Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "'Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

• Credentialed Medical Interpreters are at the forefront of eliminating the remaining vestiges of injustice in rapidly changing U.S. health care environment.

Eric is the President of ECdata National Training Institute, a NY-based interpreting and cross-cultural communication training and language access consulting company and is the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) U.S. Coordinator and NY State Chapter Chair.
He is a qualified medical interpreter with 15 years of professional experience at the largest NY State hospitals, a credentialed translator, and a licensed Community Interpreter trainer.
Eric is a lecturer at the State University of New York and has studied and taught in Canada, Germany, Austria, Norway, Ukraine and Russia.
He is a passionate advocate of the meaningful LEP patient's access to healthcare services and has delivered numerous presentations all over the world on professionalization of Medical Interpreting, National Certification and new modalities in delivering language services.
He holds a MS degree in Computer Translation and Computer Science, and an advanced Certificate "Creating and Leading Strategic Growth". His college graduation work was executed and presented in English, German and Russian languages.