Chemnick | Moen | Greenstreet

Medical Malpractice. It's All We Do. 206-443-8600

Language Barriers in Medicine

Posted Monday, February 11, 2019 by Morgan Cartwright

The United States is becoming more and more diverse, with people immigrating here from every part of the globe. Currently, there are over 25 million people in the United States who have limited English proficiency.

Doctors who provide care to these people must recognize this and provide adequate language services to ensure a mutual understanding with the patient. Most of the time this requires the doctor obtaining a professional translator. This is most often a translator with expertise in translating in the medical field, rather than someone who just happens to speak the language of the patient. The difference can be enormous in the ability to communicate the medical terms necessary for the patient to understand care. Furthermore, when patients have questions, they must have an interpreter who is competent enough to get a complete answer.

Doctors who fail to recognize these language differences may risk performing procedures or making decisions about health care against the wishes of those with limited English proficiency.

This can open the physician up to liability. In a study of 35 malpractice cases involving translators, 32 had to do with a failure to use competent interpreters. Twelve involved failure to translate important documents, and twelve involved using family members to translate.

This population is particularly vulnerable because they may be less able to get help after they have been injured. They may not understand the legal system to take action or may have other fears of the legal system. We can only hope that as the diversity increases in this country, doctors will realize the importance of overcoming language barriers in Medicine with competent translators.

Your Legal Risks When Patients Don’t Speak English Well

Chemnick | Moen | Greenstreet
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