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  • Human Rights Research Center

Healthcare Without Communication

April 30, 2024

The immigrant population in the United States, particularly recent immigrants and non-native English speakers, face significant challenges in accessing quality healthcare due to language and cultural barriers. Despite the availability of translating services, many immigrants still encounter difficulties in effectively communicating with healthcare providers, leading to inadequate medical care. Translating services in their current state are inadequate and the immigrant population in the U.S. is not receiving sufficient healthcare. This situation constitutes a human rights violation as healthcare is a fundamental human right.

Disparities exist in the care provided to patients who do not speak the same language as their healthcare provider compared to those who do; however, the use of interpreters helps mitigate this gap (Karliner, 2007). It isn’t usually possible to have language-concordant healthcare providers, but translating services can be implemented to assist with communication between patients and healthcare providers. When translating services aren’t available, patients frequently resort to alternative methods of communication, but these solutions aren’t always practical. They may rely on translation through relatives and friends, resulting in a decreased likelihood of sharing intimate health history with healthcare providers, or even lead to misunderstandings and breaches of confidentiality. Not to mention, it has been found that the absence of interpreting services or the use of family members and friends as interpreters leads to poorer patient outcomes than using professional interpreters (Boylen, 2020). Interpreters who are friends or relatives of the patient have more benefit in private practice settings than in hospitals, but there are still issues of omission of information, gate-keeping, and agenda-setting regardless of the context (Heath, 2023). Medical offices and hospitals are required to have these services available to patients who need them, so it is problematic that these issues are still occurring.

More than 25 million Americans speak English “less than very well” and the Civil Rights Act mandates that interpreting services be available to these individuals, (Juckett, 2014). Despite this, translating services are not always provided or reliable. One study showed that 48.2% of respondents claimed that an interpreter wasn’t available, 28.7% had an interpreter who wasn’t qualified, and 18.5% were told they would have an interpreter, but didn’t (Schniedewind, 2020). This contributes to poor patient outcomes because patients are unable to communicate effectively with healthcare providers. Often, it is a last-minute revelation that the patient does not have an interpreter, and booking another is impossible. This results in a waste of time and money for the patient if they need to reschedule an appointment. If they keep the appointment, patients might not get the medical help that they need.

In addition to the challenges posed by interpreting services, patients who need such assistance also lack accommodations in other respects. Nurses have stated that providing care for patients when there is a language barrier requires additional time and resources; however, little support from administration in regard to staffing, policies, and workload is supplied (Gerchow, 2020). Hospitals and clinics need to provide additional time and resources to healthcare providers when caring for a patient requiring an interpreter. Professional interpreter use in hospitals, as it stands currently, is problematic due to a lack of availability and time (Brooks, 2016). The use of professional interpreters in hospitals would increase patient satisfaction and avoid repeat hospital visits if used effectively. It is of benefit to the hospital, in addition to the patient, because it decreases the use of hospital resources and time with patients. Even in the best situations, there are difficulties that patients and healthcare providers face when utilizing interpreters. Patients who require an interpreter have reported less emotional support, longer wait times, less substantive information, and fewer opportunities to ask their healthcare providers questions (Lundin, 2018). To fix these issues, interpreters should first be widely available for those who need it.

There are issues with interpreter use in medical settings that have led to insufficient medical care being provided to patients who need translating services. Even when these services are offered, they often don’t meet the needs of the patient. Medical offices and hospitals should reevaluate translating services and establish frameworks to equip healthcare workers with the necessary tools to implement them effectively. Without this, patients are receiving inadequate healthcare, and it is a human rights violation that their medical needs aren’t being met.




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