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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Language Barriers To Good Medical Care

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America prides itself on being a melting pot where people from other countries can eventually become good citizens and productive members of our society. While on the path to citizenship, however, maybe they should avoid hospital emergency rooms.

Language barriers plague hospitals

Many hospital patients who have a limited ability to speak English and who need a translator don’t get one, which puts them at risk for poor and sometimes life-threatening medical care, an analysis in today’s New England Journal of Medicine says.

From 1990 to 2000, the number of residents with limited English proficiency grew by 7 million, to 21 million, or 8.1% of the population, according to U.S. Census figures. Yet, one study showed that no interpreter was used in 46% of emergency department cases involving such patients, says Glenn Flores, an expert on language barriers in health care who based his conclusions on his own studies and those done by other researchers.

What can happen when there is a language problem?

In a case that cost a Florida hospital a $71 million malpractice settlement…an 18-year-old who said he was intoxicado, which can mean nauseated, spent 36 hours being treated for a drug overdose before doctors realized he had a brain aneurysm.

The other side of the language problem exists for English-speaking patients in ER’s and doctor offices trying to communicate with foreign medical providers.