Side Effects of Not Using Medical Interpretation can be long lasting


Most healthcare professionals know of at least one case where a hospital relied on untrained hospital staff, or a patient's relative or friend. The lack of adequate medical interpretation services created a risky situation and put a patient in harm's way.

One such story is that of Marlon Munoz and his wife. Munoz, who currently works in radiology and as a volunteer medical interpreter at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recalls his experience of having to pass on a breast cancer diagnosis to his wife days after she underwent a breast biopsy. Munoz had to serve as the go-between between his wife who is a native Spanish speaker, and her doctor who spoke no Spanish. The burden was unbearable and Munoz struggled emotionally to deliver the news to his wife.


The lack of a professional medical interpreter created more difficulties in the time period following her chemotherapy, during which she was given a choice between several types of medications or surgery to help control her hormones. Without a qualified Spanish medical interpreter present to explain the side effects of each option, Munoz and his wife could only make decisions with the information they received. This included complex medical terminology that would be incomprehensible for a native English speaker who has limited or no medical knowledge. This resulted in a year of emotional and physical pain at the hands of the medications until she finally decided to have the surgery.


17 years later, Munoz and his wife are still reeling from the experience that would have been less painful if they had access to a professional medical interpreter. Munoz’s story and many others show how critical medical interpretation is in its role of optimizing an LEP patient’s physical and mental health. A qualified medical interpreter makes a big difference in the quality of care that an LEP patient receives and using any other person who is less than qualified to help—like a family member—puts the patient at risk.


Oftentimes, medical visits require the support of medical document translation in addition to interpretation services. This is common for patients who come from South America to the U.S. for a second opinion with a health care provider. Sometimes, these patients also come to the U.S. for their medical cases to be reviewed. In both cases, the hospitals or clinics will need to receive certified translations of all medical reports, including lab results and surgeries in order to properly examine or treat these patients.


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Yana Fisher

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