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Study shows teaching hospitals need better medical translator services


By Shawn Rhea
Posted: November 28, 2009 - 12:01 am ET
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A study appearing in the December 2009 issue of Academic Medicine has found that teaching hospitals need to improve their provision of medical translation services to patients with limited proficiency in English.

The two-year observational study, “Improving the provision of language services at academic medical centers: ensuring high-quality health communication for limited-English-proficient patients,” implemented consistent screening of patients with limited proficiency in English at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, for their preferred languages, then assessed what portion of those patients received services from a qualified translator. The study also assessed whether there was any disparity of care between diabetes patients who were English-speaking and those with limited proficiency in English.

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Researchers found that the portion of patients screened for preferred languages increased from 59% to 96% and the percentage of patients who were provided qualified medical translators increased from 19% to 83% under a program targeting better language interventions.

In related news, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters recently unveiled a certification program aimed at ensuring that foreign language translators who interpret for patients with limited proficiency in English and providers meet certain standards.

The program, launched in October, will allow hospitals to provide qualified interpreters who are trained to prevent miscommunication between patients and doctors and subsequent medical errors, according to a news release.

English-to-Spanish translators will be the first group eligible for certification under the program. The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters plans to roll out language translation certifications in 2010, according to the group. A 12-member board will be responsible for developing and maintaining the certification standards.

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