How Using an Interpreter Could Save a Life

Providing professional interpreters for non-English speaking patients in healthcare settings is a matter of accessibility, but it can also be a matter of life or death in critical situations.

In this article, we’ll discuss the dangers of not using an interpreter, why you shouldn’t rely on a patient’s family for interpreting, and how providing professional healthcare interpreters can improve efficiencies as well as patient outcomes.

The dangers of not using an interpreter

One of the key objectives of NHS healthcare provision is to make sure that patients feel as though they’re involved in decisions about their own care.

This increases their proactivity about looking after their own health and raises general education of how to promote healthy living, which, in turn, increases healthcare efficiency.

If a patient speaks little or even no English, as nearly a million people in the UK do, ensuring that they understand their diagnosis and treatment can be extremely difficult.

Even ensuring a correct diagnosis to begin with can be trying when you can’t communicate effectively with the patient about their symptoms.

Ultimately, this leads to an inability to achieve one of the NHS’ key goals as well as a possibly dangerously reduced quality of care that may lead to a patient’s care being so severely misunderstood that they receive the wrong treatment or conditions go undiagnosed.

Patients may misunderstand their medication, or important medical advice, in a potential minefield of entirely avoidable mistakes.

Learning From Crisis: Healthcare After COVID

Why family members don’t make good interpreters

Professional medical interpreters are highly trained, impartial individuals who understand medical terminology as well as how to convey the intended message exactly as designed by the healthcare professional.

This means that non-English speaking patients receive exactly the information that their healthcare professional intended to convey, without bias or confusion.

By contrast, a patient’s family member will likely have a personal, emotional involvement in what a healthcare professional is telling their loved one. Therefore, they may alter anything from the phrasing to the emphasis of information because of their understandably heightened emotional connection to the situation.

Despite having their loved one’s best interests at heart, this can lead to family members causing issues with a patient’s healthcare, and potentially dangerously so.

Furthermore, the family member may not grasp the information or condition that is being mentioned and misinform the patient.

While family members can be language lifeline in emergency situations, healthcare guidance widely and strongly recommends the use of professional interpreters wherever possible for exactly these reasons.

Improving efficiencies and patient outcomes

If a patient, for example, misunderstands their medical advice or fails to take medication in the proper way, their condition may go untreated or even worsen. This means that before long, they’ll be back in the healthcare system for either the same condition or the results of their previous condition having gone untreated.

Not only is this hugely inefficient, it also results in poorer patient outcomes. Patients who have this kind of recurring experience are likely to eventually become distrustful of their healthcare professionals, and in the worst case may even stop seeking help altogether, in the mislaid belief they cannot be treated.

By providing professional interpreting services, you ensure that patients understand their healthcare completely, leading to drastically improved time and cost efficiencies as well as leaps in patient outcomes.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of effective, accessible communication, download your free copy of our whitepaper: Learning From Crisis: Healthcare After COVID.

Learning From Crisis: Healthcare After COVID