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How Emergency Language Services Can Save Lives

Woman nurse talking with woman patient.

According to 2020 U.S. Census data, about 8.3% of the population over 5 years old have limited-English proficiency (LEP).

This means that over 27.5 million people speak English less than "very well," which can pose certain challenges when they need emergency healthcare.

2018 study found that over 15% of hospital admissions required language services, but only 3.7% actually received the needed interpreting services. The vast majority of LEP patients do not get the support they need, resulting in potential medical errors, misdiagnoses, poor patient care, and prolonged health issues. 

Having language services in an emergency room (ER) or urgent care center is not a luxury but a necessity. In these high-risk situations, interpretation and translation services can help provide patients with life-saving care. 

Keep reading to learn more about the vital role that medically qualified linguists play in emergency healthcare.

Benefits of Emergency Language Services

1. Prevent Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Testing

The minute someone steps into an ER or urgent care, they receive dozens of questions about everything from health insurance to current medications and prior surgeries. The language skills required to both understand these questions and appropriately respond are quite high. 

While many LEP patients may know enough English to hold a simple conversation or discuss common cultural topics, they may struggle with medical terminology. The added stress of the situation can also contribute to miscommunication. LEP patients may be in too much pain or discomfort to focus on understanding words in another language. They might also feel pressured to give a quick response, whether it is accurate or not.

Without proper language services, LEP patients may not be able to share all of their symptoms, current medications, and medical history. This limited and potentially incorrect information can lead medical teams to make potentially fatal errors. They might misdiagnose patients, send them for unnecessary testing, or prescribe the wrong medication. 

When lives are at stake, there is no room for error. Medically qualified interpreters can provide much-needed interpreting services to ensure the patients receive the appropriate care.

2. Prevent Cultural Misunderstandings

Communication involves so much more than just spoken or written words. It includes body language and cultural norms, which someone from another culture can easily misunderstand. 

Dr. Taru Saigal recounts an example of this in a recent article. She had a South Asian patient that was reportedly refusing medication. Upon further discussion with the patient and the nurses, she realized that the patient used a "head wobble" to express her understanding or consent, but the nurse interpreted it as a shake of the head, meaning "no." 

Having a linguist who is a native speaker of the target language can help avoid these cultural misunderstandings — and any resulting medical complications or malpractice claims. It's not enough to rely on things like Google Translate because proper emergency care requires complete understanding from both the medical team and the patient. 

3. Improve Patient Care

There has been a move toward patient-centered healthcare, which often provides faster recoveries, better health results, improved patient satisfaction, and lower costs. However, patient-centered healthcare relies on communicating and understanding the patient.

Imagine how it would feel to be incredibly sick or in excruciating pain and not be able to communicate the problem. Aside from the obvious physical discomfort, LEP patients might feel scared, frustrated, and confused. This stress can exacerbate symptoms and leave patients with a negative — or even traumatic — experience at ERs and urgent care centers, which does not represent patient-centered care. 

Emergency language services can bridge that communication gap, making patients feel more comfortable, understood, and safe.

4. Lower Readmission Rates

While it's essential that medical professionals understand a patient's symptoms, it's just as critical that the patient comprehends their discharge instructions. If they don't understand how often to take medication, how to prevent infection, or what foods they cannot eat, they can end up back in the ER or urgent care within days.

In fact, a 2012 study found that over 24% of LEP patients without an interpreter at admission or discharge were readmitted within 30 days. The readmission rate decreased to less than 15% when these patients had access to language services at admission and discharge.

Medically qualified interpreters can help hospitals reduce readmission costs and — more importantly — improve patients' health outcomes and at-home care.

Save More Lives With Emergency Language Services

Make sure you offer patients the best care possible by providing them access to on-demand language services. Schedule a demo with GLOBO today to see how our medically qualified interpreters can help you save lives.

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