Language Barriers In Hospitals - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/21/07

Language Barriers In Hospitals

What if you're in a country and you didn't understand the language spoken? It can be an unsettling experience, especially when your health is in question.

Dr. Joehassin Cordero is a surgeon fluent in Spanish. He is one of many interpreters at University Medical Center that is called when a translator is needed. But, there are times he can't come because he has his patients to tend to.

"There's a need that needs to be filled," said Dr. Cordero.

But they need to be filled by trained interpreters who understand the medical language. Dr. Cordero says in his experience patients have a hard time understanding what is wrong with them something as simple as a runny nose.

"That happens very often where somebody's saying I have this runny nose, when in fact they may have a tumor, or something even a translator may have a difficult time understanding," said Dr. Cordero.

The doctor says American patients already have a hard enough time understanding medical terminology as it is. Foreigners have even a harder time and if a doctor can't understand the patient then there's miscommunication. When a patient comes through these doors, it's crucial that they be accurately diagnosed, so when their isn't a trained interpreter present it could be the difference between life or death.

Irma Rubio is a nurse who is a trained interpreters at Covenant Medical Center. She says Covenant just started a translating program three months ago.

"Up until now one of the unfortunate things we have done is to grab whoever is bilingual, for them to do the interpretation for us, that could be another member of the family, a house keeper, someone from dietary, whoever," said Nurse Rubio.

But grabbing just anyone to interpret a doctor's diagnoses can create major problems.

"Sometime yeah things can be misunderstood," said Dr. Cordero.

Cordero also says when doctors let family members or friends do the interpreting they tend to hold back serious information.

"The family tends to protect the loved one. So they are going to give them what they think the patient wants to hear, they aren't going to give them the whole picture and I believe the patient has the right to know what is exactly going to happen to them," said Nurse Rubio. 

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