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Chicago ER Errors and the Need for Interpreters

Clear communication between doctors and patients is crucial for making good decisions about medical care. The consequences of miscommunication can carry catastrophic consequences.

Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are therefore concerned about medical mistakes that can result from the lack of interpreters in hospitals. After all, Chicago is a cosmopolitan city, home to many people who do not speak English as their first language.

The problem is particularly serious in emergency rooms, where there is such an urgent need to make quick decisions. This was documented recently in a research study that was conducted at two pediatric emergency rooms in Massachusetts. It was based on families who were primarily Spanish-speaking.

The research found that medical mistakes that could have "clinical consequences" were about twice as likely to occur for non-English-speaking patients if there were no interpreters present or if the translation was done by an amateur.

To be sure, it would be an added expense for hospitals to have more interpreters available. But the clear communication that interpreters make possible might very well end up reducing costs overall. It could potentially do this by avoiding unnecessary tests and improving overall care.

The lead researcher for the study was Glenn Flores of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. In his report, Flores emphasized the need for proper training of interpreters. The evidence indicates that the best chance of preventing translation errors comes when interpreters have at least 100 hours of training.

Hospitals often like to invest in expensive high-tech equipment. They would do well to consider the value of investing in basic language skills, so that doctors and patients can communicate clearly.

Source: "Interpreters in ER may limit medical errors: study," Reuters, 4-17-12

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