San Francisco Chronicle: Medical interpreters in short supply as health coverage grows

San Francisco Chronicle: Medical interpreters in short supply as health coverage grows

By John M. Gonzales

Vietnamese interpreter Siu Williams and her fellow linguists are in such demand at Stanford Hospital that the sprawling campus has become like a trampoline and the hallways like treadmills.

A 2010 report by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and National Health Law Program examined 1,373 malpractice claims and found 35 cases in which death, dismemberment, brain damage, and other cases of severe medical harm were traced to inadequate medical interpreting.

The cases, compiled over four years, involved multiple languages, and patients of all ages.

In one case, involving a 9-year-old girl, the report found that emergency room doctors neither “provided competent oral interpreters, nor translation of important written” consent forms in prescribing the drug Reglan for what was diagnosed as stomach flu.

The drug is not recommended for pediatric use, but the girl’s Vietnamese-speaking parents were not informed of the risks in their native language. The doctors also used the child herself and her 16-year-old brother as ad-hoc interpreters, relying on them to inform the parents about side effects that would require them to immediately return to the hospital.

The girl died from a heart attack brought on by an adverse reaction to the drug, the report said.

Report editor Mara Youdelman, senior attorney at the National Health Law Program and a commissioner on the interpreters certification commission, said she believes such cases are “vastly underreported.” Read the full article here. »

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