Wilmington News Journal Examines Bilingual Hospital Staff Serving as Interpreters
With a growing population of non-English-speaking patients, many hospitals are training their bilingual staff members to be "effective communicators on health issues," the Wilmington News Journal reports. Many of those providing interpretation services do not have a medical background and might work in the billing, scheduling or custodial departments. A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that one in five hospital workers who sometimes also serve as interpreters have insufficient skills.
Alice Chen, medical director of the General Medicine Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, said, "Just because you're fluent in another language doesn't mean you'll be able to interpret." She added that because "not every hospital has the resources to hire 20 full-time interpreters," hospital officials need to ensure that their bilingual staff has adequate training. "You don't want to throw someone who is unprepared into an emotional discussion," Chen said.
Another issue is that some English medical terms have no equivalent in other languages. Some hospitals in Delaware have used a seven-week course called Language Liaisons to train staff in "medical Spanish." Another Delaware project, "Spanish Bilingual Assistant Course," focuses on protocol, medical terms and multicultural understanding.
In addition, Phoenix Children's Hospital's Medical Interpreter Project for Children's Hospitals since 2005 has trained interpreters working at children's hospitals across the country. The Ronald McDonald House Charities finances the project (Ratnayake, Wilmington News Journal, 3/3).