Time for an All-Inclusive Approach to Language Interpreting in Emergency Medicine

Oct 14, 2014 | 0 comments

Communication is the most basic aspect to providing quality healthcare. In the current state, the interpreting services offered in most hospitals 24/7 are woefully inadequate and potentially put non-native speakers into a life threatening situations. In the day-to-day realities of emergency medicine, the ability to make instant decisions can have potential life or death ramifications.  A two minute telephone call for permission to perform life-saving surgery versus a lengthy wait for an interpreter could have dramatically different outcomes. The ability to make those decisions relies on quickly having the correct information to make that decision at any time of the day.

Technology, when properly harnessed, should enhance the professional interpreters’ ability to provide the right service, at the right time, via the most appropriate channel. Hospitals are unable to provide interpreters in person 24 hours a day – it is ludicrous to suggest they should. Yet an interpreter could easily communicate through telephone or video link connected via mobile, smartphone, handset telephone, or PC etc. 24 hours a day if required.

We should look at the end user experience – what is most important to them?

In her recent blog The Time is now for Healthcare Interpreting 2.0 Katharine Allen, Co-President of InterpretAmerica, shared her personal experience of medical communications throughout her young son’s life-saving hospital treatment. It is well worth a read. Katharine did not require an interpreter but illustrates how an already stressful situation could have been so gravely exacerbated by language difficulties. From 4am discussions with nurses, to providing emergency permissions via mobile while traveling, to in depth discussions with consultants – each situation was unique and would have been best serviced by an interpreter using a different device. In the middle of the night, communication with a nurse might best be served by a machine driven translation app. Yet for a conversation with doctors on their rounds quick access to video and telephone interpreting services may be the best solution.

“If we had needed interpreting services, I would have welcomed every mode of communication available to me, whether delivered face to face or digitally, via a smartphone app or a video screen.”

Customers should have the option to access different streams of communication with an interpreter relevant to their requirements. The debate about ‘remote’ versus face-to-face language interpreting has focused too much around an either/or argument without considering an all-inclusive approach to the many vehicles of delivery for interpreters. As an industry, we should be looking at the ways in which we can best offer all round services rather than seeing each method of delivery as competition. It should not be an issue of one mode over another, but utilising the best system to solve the problem at hand.