Wall Street Journal Examines Medical Translation Services for Immigrants
The Wall Street Journal today examined the issue of medical translation for immigrants who do not speak English and seek care in non-urban areas, where many physicians "rely on family members, often children, to mediate millions of patient visits." The use of amateur interpreters can lead to unnecessary surgeries, missed symptoms and treatment overdoses, according to professional interpreters who conduct medical translation for physicians. In 2000, HHS issued standards that said non-English speakers should have "competency" from medical interpreters, and should receive the service at no cost; the rule called the use of amateur interpreters "life-threatening." However, the Bush administration last year issued new standards that said non-English-speakers who "feel more comfortable" with a family member or friend "should be permitted to use an interpreter of their own choosing." Professional interpreters and patient and immigrant advocacy groups, such as the National Health Law Program and the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, maintain that medical translation is "too important to leave to amateurs." Many physicians, however, cannot afford professional interpreter services, which often cost more than the amount that Medicaid reimburses physicians for an office visit. Without "a body of scientific evidence to establish its worth, or government money to pay for it, medical interpreting is an unfunded and unaffordable frill," Dr. Yank Coble, president of the American Medical Association, said. Only eight states provide Medicaid reimbursement for professional interpretation services (Newman, Wall Street Journal, 1/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.