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Hospitals struggle to provide interpreters for patients who don't speak English.

Posted on May 22, 2012 at 11:11 AM
 
Hospitals struggle to provide translators for patients who don’t speak English
 
Hospitals and other medical providers are in a tough spot, say experts. The law prohibits them from asking patients to pay for translation services, and they may not receive adequate or in some cases any other reimbursement. “It’s a civil rights law, not a funding law,” says Mara Youdelman, managing attorney in the Washington office of the National Health Law Program.A dozen states and the District reimburse hospitals, doctors and other providers for giving language services to enrollees in Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for low income people, and in CHIP, a federal-state health program for children, according to Youdelman. Virginia and Maryland do not. /article_body Personal Post INLINE_BB AD BEGIN INLINE_BB AD END/article-side-rail A 2008 survey by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, found that 98 percent of health insurers provide access to interpreter services, but providers and policy experts question that figure. According to a survey by the Health Research and Educational Trust, in partnership with the American Hospital Association,
3 percent of hospitals received direct reimbursement for interpreter services, most of that from the Medicaid program. “Most hospitals that make this a priority make it a budget item,” Youdelman says. Lost in translation Hospitals and other providers realize that offering competent interpreter services can help ensure that they don’t miss or misdiagnose a condition that results in serious injury or death, experts say. Trained interpreters can also help providers save money by avoiding unnecessary tests and procedures. Youdelman cites the example of a Russian-speaking patient in Upstate New York who arrived at an emergency department saying a word that sounded like “angina.” The emergency staff ran thousands of dollars’ worth of tests, thinking he might be having a heart attack. The real reason for his visit: a bad sore throat. Like many hospitals, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas provides interpreter services around the clock via varying modes of communication — face-to-face, telephone and video — delivered by a mix of trained staff interpreters and outside contractors.When Nadia Compean, 23, was six months pregnant, her doctor in Odessa, Tex., told her that her baby had spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal cord doesn’t close properly, leading to permanent nerve and other damage.The local hospital wasn’t equipped to handle the birth and subsequent surgery that her daughter would require, so Nadia and the child’s father traveled to Dallas, about 350 miles away.Neither speaks much English, but at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, interpreters helped them understand what to expect, Nadia said (through an interpreter).Nadia says she learned that her daughter, Eva, would be born with a lump on her back and would require immediate surgery. She also learned about problems that Eva may experience walking and using the toilet, she says.Eva was born March 6. Because of her medical needs and the lack of adequate interpreter services in Odessa, the couple is considering relocating to Dallas, where the father hopes he can find construction work.This column is produced through a collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy organization that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Categories: Medical Interpretation

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