Website spotlight: Professional translation services in the ED can reduce errors and prevent adverse events

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, July 26, 2012

Thrombosis, sclerosis, embolism-it might not require conjugating verbs, but medical terminology is a language in itself, one that often creates a barrier between physicians and patients. When the patient also doesn't speak English, communicating becomes an even bigger obstacle.

A recent study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, "Errors of Medical Interpretation and Their Potential Clinical Consequences: A Comparison of Professional Versus Ad Hoc Versus No Interpreters," explores the medical errors fueled by language barriers in the ED. Study authors recorded audio of ED visits during 30 months in the two largest pediatric EDs in Massachusetts. Participants included Spanish-speaking limited-English-proficient patients, caregivers, and their interpreters.

Study authors noted 1,884 interpreter errors and concluded that professional interpreters were significantly less likely (12%) to cause errors than ad-hoc interpreters (22%) or no interpreters (20%).

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