DMI Blog

Andrew Friedman

Health Care Crisis

Hospital patients who do not speak English have long known the dire consequences of the lack of adequate interpretation and translation services in health care. Immigrant community organizations, like Brooklyn's Make the Road by Walking, have published a string of reports based on hundreds of patient interviews that have documented language barriers in health care and their effects. Patients report routine confusion, misdiagnosis, inadequate care and humiliation as a result. Glenn Flores, a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says,

Lack of interpreters translates into impaired health status, lower liklihood of being given a follow-up appointment, greater risk of hospital admissions and more drug complications.

Last week, a slew of evidence emerged that shows that immigrant patients have been right all along. First, an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that forty-six percent of emergency room patients who need interpretation services do not receive them. Also, notwithstanding the fact that the country's limited English proficient population has increased by 300% since 1990 to over eight percent of the total population, only twenty-three percent of teaching hospitals train doctors how to work effectively with interpreters. Maybe that's because most hospitals fail to provide them.

Similarly, a New York City Department of Health report entitled The Health of Immigrants in New York City found that language barriers prevent immigrant New Yorkers from receiving the same qualty of care as their native born neighbors. Among the report's primary reccomendations to help New York's foreign-born population to stay healthy is addressing language barriers in health care.

It is good news that the need for language assistance services at hospitals is getting so much attention. It is also good that a consensus is growing that health care providers need to do more to ensure effective communication and treatment of immigrant patients.

It is shocking, though, that it has taken so long for this consensus to emerge. It is also shocking that medical professionals routinely provide care to patients who they cannot effectively communicate with. Government and private hospitals must do more to end this emergent health care crisis. Quite simply, it's a matter of life and death.

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Posted at 10:54 AM, Jul 23, 2006 in Language Access
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