Using professional interpreters in senior care is essential to providing Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients access to appropriate care and services. Having an interpreter available also helps ensure that a patient understands what medical professionals are recommending or requesting and that the patient is satisfied with his or her care. In fact, many doctors and nurses require the assistance of interpreters not only to overcome the obvious language barriers, but also to navigate potential cultural differences. Avoiding miscommunication during a patient’s stay in senior care is extremely important in order to avoid any errors in care attributed to language barriers (and potential lawsuits that may arise from these errors if a trained interpreter is not present).
It may seem like a patient’s friend or family member could interpret for them whenever necessary. However, it is vital that the interpreter used is a trained professional. Untrained interpreters are more likely to make errors or even violate confidentiality issues, resulting in potentially adverse outcomes. Friends and family may also be embarrassed by some of the medical topics that come up and use euphemisms or different terminology than what the medical team had used. This could cause confusion on both sides. Not to mention that this could be a clear HIPAA violation!
On the other hand, a professional interpreter will be trained in the necessary skills and terminology and is fully equipped to handle the situations that may arise with the individual in senior care. Professional interpreters are also legally bound to confidentiality agreements, protecting both health care professionals and the patient. An interpreter’s code of ethics is another key difference in utilizing a professional. Non-professionals are unfamiliar with such confidentiality and ethics requirements, and therefore, they could make egregious errors or missteps that may result in improper care.
Having an interpreter available for your senior care patient not only helps ensure that the patient can communicate with the medical team, but also statistically results in higher patient satisfaction since the patient is able to feel confident in knowing his or her needs are being met, and is able to communicate in his or her preferred language. The interpreter may also be able to clarify cultural differences for the medical team if such a situation arises, since the professional interpreter is well-versed in the cultures associated with both languages. If the patient’s stay in senior care is temporary, use of a trained interpreter is also associated with significantly shorter stays and reduced readmission rates.
While on-site interpreting is preferred, understandably there will be situations in which this is not possible if an on-site interpreter is not available. In these instances, it is also possible to use telephonic interpreting services. When in doubt about a patient’s English proficiency, it is best to use either an on-site or telephonic interpreter to assess and help with the potential language barrier for the best possible outcome for both the senior care facility and its patient.
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