Medical Interpreters vs Untrained Interpreters

Watch the following video:

This is a video from the HBO show Getting On, and as you all could see is all about Language Barrier. First thing I would like to say is that this clip is hilarious! My second point is How much difference would the interpreter had made if he had been present, or if he had been able to talk directly to the patient? Well it would have made a huge difference, maybe the clip would have lost its funniness, but at least the communication would had been better.

The same way the nurse try to interpret what the patient was saying, many family members and friends try to interpret in a health care setting for their friends and family members, and many times the mistakes they make could harm the patient instead of helping them.  First of all I have to say something, there is a difference between interpreting and translating that everyone should know about; interpreting is transmitting a verbal message from and to a language so it can be understood by all the parties.  Translating is re-writing a document from and to a language that could also be understood by the parties involved. Now that this is clear I have to say the following about interpreters, not everyone that speaks more than one language can be an interpreter, same way that a nurse cannot diagnosed patients just because he or she have medical knowledge.

Just because I spoke Spanish it didn’t mean I was able to interpret for other Spanish-speaking people, especially about medical terms that I didn’t know at all. I had to study and work hard to learn the medical terminology and how to interpret.  And even when I was “able” to interpret, it took guts and a lot of practice to learn to understand, and to transmit a message to a patient or a doctor without making mistakes. It is nerve-wracking thinking that I could really mess up somebody’s life just by changing one word in an encounter.

In Miami a young man was taken to a hospital that lack of trained interpreters, and the hospital had to paid over 71 million dollars to the patient, the reason? The providers use a family member to interpret, the person mentioned that the patient was “intoxicado” which they translated to “intoxicated” thinking that the patient was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or maybe both. After two days in a hospital bed, by the time they came to realized that the patient was having a stroke it was too late and the patient became quadriplegic.  Intoxicado in Spanish can also mean food poisoning. The patient was dizzy and was also vomiting which took his family to believe that he ha eaten something that did not agree with him. This person’s life was completely changed just by the miss interpretation of one word.

I won’t get tired of saying a trained medical interpreter can save many lives in many languages. An untrained interpreter may ruin many lives just with one word. Let’s not endangered people’s lives, always help them to request a “Trained interpreter” to make sure everything is understood, and avoid to regret it later.

Here’s a good article about Patient safety and medical interpretation


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