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Fast and Accurate Medical Interpretation Is a Healthcare Priority

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Fast and Accurate Medical Interpretation Is a Healthcare Priority
Health information can save lives if doctors and decision-makers receive and fully understand it in a timely and exact manner. Unfortunately, language barriers can interfere with the communication of critical information, endangering lives in critical situations. Fortunately, it is easier than ever to get simultaneous or fast-turnaround medical interpretation and translation services for medical staff as well as families. We’ll consider the options for translation and interpretation in critical health care contexts, discovering how citizens can gain a direct mother-tongue understanding of life-saving information in a cost-effective manner.
The Need for Speed in Interpretation, Whether by a Translation Service or a Translation App
The translation industry is geared up for fast service. Companies compete based on response time and delivery time. A translation company that gets you a quote within an hour and delivers the work same-day is going to have a leg up on the competition. Though translation certification requirements vary from place to place, a certified translation agency may even be committed by the terms of its certification to meet certain criteria for response time.
But the requirements for translation and interpretation in health care are more demanding. I was visiting an ill relative in a Bangkok hospital when suddenly all the electricity went off in the room, shutting down all the life-sustaining equipment in the room. I speak little more than sawadee in Thai, and I knew from experience that no one on the floor spoke a word of English. I panicked, initially, at a loss about what to do. Of course, the solution was in my hand: I just talked to the Google Translate mobile app, and it talked Thai to the nurses. Problem solved.
Alternative news sites often feature miracle gadgets for simultaneous translation. These “universal translators” are marketed as even more simple to use than apps because translation and simultaneous translation are all they do, so there is no need to open the app and click buttons. Just talk in one language and the desired language comes out the other end. Leaving aside the question of whether the translation quality is a match for a translation app or a human interior, even improved ergonomics lack the emotional and empathetic quality a human being has.
Where Interpretation Apps Are No Substitute for a Warm-Blooded Human Interpreter
A translation app or gadget may do the trick for a word or phrase but in other contexts, it is too limited and cumbersome. An expert human linguist is needed to do interpretation services. Humans have empathy and understanding in an emotional, high-pressure situation. After a harrowing car accident near Paris, a badly bleeding British mother was hysterical with worry about her injured child. None of the paramedics who arrived on the scene could speak a word of English. Fortunately, a passing motorist who stopped to help was fluently bilingual and able to calmly provide a French to English translation.
Naturally, one can’t depend on good fortune to deliver a skilled interpreter to your side in a moment of need. If the tables were turned, and a motorist from Paris was injured in Wales or Wichita, how likely is it that a passerby would render a French translation? Some places lack an abundance of bilingual people, let alone those with interpreting skills.
The case of Willie Ramirez shows the dire consequences of lacking good real-time interpretation. The 18-year-old baseball player was brought to a Florida hospital unconscious. The Cuban family members who brought him there could speak only Spanish and reported to paramedics that he was intoxicado. The world was misinterpreted as “intoxicated” rather than the poisoned that the family member intended. The patient’s family believed he was suffering from food poisoning. But doctors believed he was suffering from alcohol drug or alcohol overdose. In fact, he had a cerebral hemorrhage. The delay in his treatment due to linguistic error, tragically, left Ramirez a quadriplegic.
In High Demand at Higher Rates: Medical Translation Is a Much-Desired Specialization
Interpretation and translation of healthcare have become specialized professions. We need to distinguish the two terms, even if they are sometimes used interchangeably.
Medical translator jobs are in high demand. The medical translation covers a broad range of documents: clinical, technical, regulatory or marketing documents for devices or software, pharmaceutical articles, and research, medicine or health reports. Most nations require that medical documents and labels concerning devices and drugs be translated into the language of that country to make sure there is no misunderstanding by patients and doctors. Medical translations also are needed for scientific papers in a wide variety of medical fields. Papers range from general medicine to surgery, oncology to ophthalmology, pharmacology to proctology, as clinical trials and research and much more.
Most of these jobs are not a time-sensitive and urgent as some of the examples we have raised, These refer not to translation but more exactly to interpretation. Translation refers to written documents while interpretation is for the spoken word. The skills required for interpreting are real-time, though translation in a healthcare context can be urgent and highly time-sensitive.
It takes special training to understand and translate medical language, but those who have the knowledge and make the effort to specialize are likely to benefit. Medical interpreters command higher rates than generalists. The average hourly rate for a Medical Interpreter in the US tops $24. This is about 20% higher than a “regular” interpreter, who earns on average about $20/hour.
What Are Interpretation Services for Healthcare? Who Provides Them? Who Pays?
In 2001 the State of Oregon in SB790 required doctors and hospitals to start using professional interpreters. The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, further expanded materials that hospitals and insurers are required to translate for non-English speakers. But more than a decade after Oregon’s law passed, patients in the state are often not getting the medical interpretation help they need, especially as the percentage of Spanish speakers, many of them migrants, continues to rise.
How much do interpretation services cost? It varies widely. Obviously, face to face language interpretation services is likely to be the most costly, followed by phone interpretation and online interpretation. You may not bear these costs directly. According to the National Health Law Program, ten states pay for interpreter services under Medicaid or SCHIP and are eligible for federal matching payments of 50 percent or more. Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you feel that you need an interpreter to understand what doctors or health care providers are telling you, they are required by law to provide you with one.
Many hospitals and doctors opt to rely on phone services, where they can get help on-demand in several languages. But the people who work for those language services often lack the necessary medical training and knowledge. Moreover, they work remotely, which can cause disorientation with elderly or young patients and their family members.
An innovative solution on the rise is the use of videoconferencing technology to deliver medical interpretation in real-time With the ubiquitous presence of flat screens, not to mention smartphones, there is no longer a need to rely on the lower quality, lower fidelity, and more impersonal disembodied voices. Seeing the interpreter and enabling the interpreter to see both health care providers, patients, and family members provide the more human dimension while retaining the convenience of on-demand availability from anywhere.
While such services are offered by many translation companies, other agencies specialize exclusively in live interpretation, or medical interpretation, typically charging by the minute. With increased government intervention requiring interpretation, and more migrants, that’s sure to be a growth industry. Who pays? Well, for better or worse, we all do.

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