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Video brings relief to non English-speaking patients

January 12, 2011 - 0 Comments

Having to go to the emergency room or seek a specialist’s care for a health condition can be a very harrowing experience. Now imagine if you had to receive treatment for a condition but couldn’t communicate with your doctor to tell them what was wrong, or comprehend what medical advice or options they are giving you. That would be pretty terrifying.

The fact is, for patients who don’t speak English or speak English as a second language, this is a reality anytime they need to receive medical attention.

It’s for this reason that the federal government included the right to medical interpreting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act was bolstered by a presidential order in 2000 that mandated all hospitals receiving federal funds to make medical interpreting available to patients that needed it.

Unfortunately for many hospitals and other healthcare organizations, the logistics and costs of keeping a staff of interpreters is difficult. In some cases, using family members or hospital employees as translators is necessary and can be problematic if they don’t have the medical background to accurately interpret.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, a 2002 study funded by the Commonwealth Fund found, on average, 31 mistakes in each encounter of medical interpreting in 13 sessions. When the topic of conversation is life or death, shouldn’t we be shooting for zero mistakes in each encounter?

But how can hospitals feasibly keep a staff of interpreters that are skilled in foreign languages and capable of interpreting medical conversations? This is where video teleconferencing (VTC) and Telepresence are making a difference.

Organizations like the Health Care Interpreter Network, a cooperative of hospitals that share trained healthcare interpreters, are being founded to help battle this problem. The network gives hospital staff access to trained and filtered interpreters via VTC if one isn’t available. This makes interpreters that speak Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, Russian, Farsi, Tongan, Hindi and American Sign Language all available right in the examination room – instantly.

VTC and Telepresence are breaking down the walls separating patients from the medical advice and treatment they need. Now that’s a new way of caring.

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