Monday Medical: Interpretation services vital for patients
November 6, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Twelve years ago, when Judith Quintana came to Yampa Valley Medical Center for the birth of her daughter, Edith, she found it difficult to communicate with the physicians and nurses.
Quintana has limited English proficiency — she does not speak or understand English well. When she arrived at the hospital, Jane Howell, a YVMC case manager who has some proficiency in Spanish, was able to step in and help interpret.
Today, Quintana and many other patients are helped not by a case manager but by professional medical interpreters.
Erica Gallagher, coordinator of the interpretation services at YVMC, leads a team of three certified medical interpreters who provide on-site Spanish interpretation.
"We also provide a telephone service that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and may be used to access more than 180 different languages," Gallagher said.
We all know that medical terminology has its own specialized vocabulary that often is confusing even to individuals fluent in English. A person who has limited English proficiency may be able to understand enough English to work or go grocery shopping, but to try and understand medical terminology in a different language is extremely difficult.
That experience is not only frustrating, but also potentially harmful. Studies conducted by the Institute of Medicine and other research organizations have found that when physician-patient communication is hampered by language barriers, the results can be detrimental to the patient.
"Interpretation is defined as facilitating oral communication between individuals who do not speak the same language and may not share the same culture," Gallagher said. "It is different from translation and requires a high level of skill. Our medical interpreters have received advanced training in Spanish interpretation.
"It is so important to have these services available not only for local residents but our international visitors, as well," she said.
Another important reason for the interpretation services program at YVMC is that federal regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs that receive federal funds, such as Medicare or Medicaid. A failure to provide language access services for those with limited English proficiency may be a form of discrimination on the basis of national origin.
"We also provide services for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act," Gallagher said.
Since Edith's birth, interpreters have become a very important part of the Quintana family's experience at YVMC. Edith was born deaf, and from a very young age she has received speech-language therapy from SportsMed's Pediatric Therapy Services at YVMC.
Sally Hertzog, Edith's speech-language pathologist, said interpreters help convey information to Edith and her mother and to teachers at school
"I have worked with Edith and her family since 2006," Hertzog said. "The interpreter comes not only to Edith's speech therapy but to meetings I have with Judith to discuss goals, progress and concerns she may have.
"Also, the interpreter helps me convey information I have received from Edith's school teachers to Judith. The interpretive services are essential in serving Edith and her family."
Quintana is very thankful for the help she has received from Gallagher, Howell, Hertzog and the interpretive services team at YVMC. Through an interpreter, Quintana said, "All the experiences have been very good. I want to say how nice the interpretation service is and how much help it has been for me and my daughter."
In-person interpretation must be arranged in advance. Telephone interpretation is accessible any time by employees in all areas of the hospital. YVMC also offers a direct interpretation access line for Spanish speakers.
All of these services are available free of charge. For more information on YVMC's Spanish interpretation services call 970-875-2772.
Rosie Kern is a communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.