California needs more interpreters for patients

Friday, August 16, 2013

Within minutes of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash in July, San Francisco General Hospital administrators knew they needed language translation services to help victims of this horrific accident. The hospital's medical staff put out the call for anyone who could interpret, and hospital personnel were able to communicate with the injured by asking Korean-speaking staff to double as interpreters. These patients were fortunate that San Francisco General found enough medical interpreters, but the unfortunate truth is that access to translation services is a major gap in our health care throughout the state.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, more than 6.5 million residents of California, 1 out of every 5, speak English "less than very well." They frequently experience problems related to understanding their physician or other health care provider. Lack of proper interpreter services can have dire, even tragic, consequences. In one survey, almost half of the physicians were familiar with incidents in which quality of care was compromised by language barriers.