Requests from non-English speakers lead hospitals to expand translation services

An increase in hospital patients for whom English is not a first language is creating the need for quality translation and interpretation services, the (Iowa) Gazette reports.

Providing the necessary services for this population entails both interpreting oral communications and translating written communication, according to the article. For instance, in fiscal year 2013, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) received more than 13,500 requests for Spanish interpretation services, an increase of more than 3,000 from fiscal year 2010. The need for services in other non-English languages has also nearly doubled in the past three years, climbing from 1,800 requests to 3,000, the article says.

The UIHC system employs three full-time interpreters, all of whom are fluent in Spanish and English. It also has a "language bank" staffed by part-timers fluent in nearly 30 more languages, including Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali and American Sign Language, as well as document translation services. If the hospital receives a request for translation in a language not staffed within the system, the article states, it contracts with a medical phone interpretation company.

A similar service is offered at the 532-bed UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, according to the article. The hospital receives about five requests a day, Sarah Corizzo, media relations specialist, told the Gazette, with Spanish the most frequently-requested language, followed by Swahili.

Simply being bilingual doesn't make one an effective interpreter and translator, according to Ernest Nino-Murcia, vice president of Iowa Interpreters and Translators Association--you must be able to translate directly, without editorializing or paraphrasing, and there was a time when hospitals and courts didn't realize the difference.

"Saying that anybody who speaks two languages can interpret is like saying anyone with hands can play a piano," he told the Gazette. "It's what you call a necessary condition but not sufficient."

Because of obstacles like these, Linda Joyce, testing director at the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters in Walton, W.Va., is currently working to promote national certification for interpreters and translators, which is not currently required at UIHC, according to the article.

In August, Montana State University started an online course designed to help healthcare professionals brush up on Spanish to communicate with non-English-speaking patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article