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Translation Errors And Medical Care

Communicating your medical issues can be difficult with a doctor even when you do speak the same language. Many patients complain about how they feel doctors and medical personnel do not seem to listen or hear what the patient is really saying. This can be frustrating and can cause poor medical care. Imagine the type of difficulties a patient can have when the doctor does not speak the same language.  

Language Difficulty Between Patients and Doctors

Even though English is the most commonly used language in the U.S., there is no official language. The country has a wide diversity of languages spoken, including languages used by both foreign and US-born residents and visitors. According to the U.S. Census, 21% of residents in the U.S. spoke a language other than English at home. 

By the numbers, the most commonly used languages in the U.S. after English include: Spanish, Chinese (primarily Mandarin and Cantonese), Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, Korean, and Russian. In a hospital setting, it may be easier to find a doctor, nurse, or administrator who speaks, Spanish, Mandarin, or Cantonese. However, what happens when a tourist from Laos is injured while visiting historic sites in Philadelphia?

Professional Interpretation and Medical Outcomes

In day-to-day life, language barriers can be frustrating. With medical care, language barriers can be life threatening. According to research by the Harvard Medical School, “Language barriers can significantly affect care. Studies indicate that patients with limited English proficiency receive less preventive care, are less likely to adhere to medication regimens, and are more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice.”

When a doctor and patient are not conversant in the same language, an in-person interpretation is the next best thing for communication. In-person translation may not be available or translators may be backed up with other patients. The next best option may be video translation services, followed by phone translation. 

Remote interpretation has come a long way, even in the past few months as most people in the U.S. have gotten used to remote living. There are a number of video chat and presentation platforms that doctors and patients can use to communicate when there is a language barrier. Video translation can be better than phone translation because a lot of communication involves body language and physical gestures. 

A research study looked at the effectiveness of video and telephonic translation services compared to in-person interpretation. The researchers found, “Provider and interpreter comments on scales and interview data support the higher in-person ratings, but they also showed a distinct preference for video over the phone.”

Translation Errors and Medical Malpractice

Translation errors can occur when a doctor is overly confident in their ability to understand a person who may have limited English. If a doctor is not sure about communicating with a patient, they should seek interpretation confirmation. Failure to communicate with a patient may cause serious injury or harm. If you were harmed because of negligent care by a doctor, speak with a medical malpractice attorney for help. Fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today to talk to our team. 

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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