Professional Medical Interpreters Are Required When Caring for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Patients:

Marlon Munoz, once an informal medical interpreter between English speaking doctors and Spanish speaking family and friends, was well acquainted with the less than ideal work of delivering diagnosis to patients. On one occasion he had to carry the burden of telling his wife Aibi Perez that she had breast cancer. After a routine breast biopsy, Perez received a call from her physician, the doctor did not speak Spanish and Perez spoke very little English so Munoz was called and asked to interpret the horrific news to his beloved wife. Munoz was at work when he got the call from his wife’s physician, he left work and drove to a nearby park where he sat on a bench and broke down, trying to make sense of the situation and trying to figure out how he was going to be the bearer of this dreadful news. Once arriving home, Munoz struggled to find the words to tell his wife the results but she said, “You don’t have to tell me, I already know.” Munoz said, “That’s when I broke into tears.” Perez survived and is breast cancer free, however the couple says the experience put a strain on their relationship during a stressful time in both their lives and they wish it could have been handled in a way where Munoz was not the one to have to tell his wife she had cancer.

The correct protocol for the physician to have followed would have been to enlist the aid of a professional medical interpreter who has the skills, understanding and experience in order to properly deliver medical information to LEP patients. A medical interpreter is extremely easy to access and there are various professional interpretation services available to accommodate specific needs, languages and rare dialects.

Immigration Statistics in America:

  • In 2016, more than 43.7 million immigrants lived in the United States which accounted for 13.5% of the total population.
  • In 2016, immigrants and their U.S. born children accounted for 86.4 million people (27%) of the American population.
  • In 2016, 1.49 million foreign born individuals moved to America, this is a 7% increase from the 1.38 million people who moved to America in 2015.
  • In 2016, 22% (65.5 million) people reported speaking a language other than English at home.
  • In 2016, 49% (21.3 million) immigrants ages 5 and older were considered LEP.

Diversity is rapidly growing within communities across America. Language barriers are increasing faced in medical situations, thus leaving medical providers and LEP patients at risk of the detrimental outcomes that accompany miscommunication. Incorporating language solutions that bridge the language gap is the only way to ensure optimal healthcare and accurate communication is being provided to all patients, regardless of the language they speak. “The reality is, if you can’t communicate with a patient, you can’t provide care,” says Mara Youdelman, managing attorney at the National Health Law Program in Washington, D.C., who also works on language access issues. “It shouldn’t be an add on, it should be a required part of providing high quality health care,” she stated in regards to providing a professional medical interpreter when caring for LEP patients.

Providing a Medical Interpreter is the Law:

In efforts to combat poor patient care caused by language barriers, laws have been passed to protect the rights of LEP patients living in America. Providing a medical interpreter when language barriers are faced in healthcare settings is no longer an option, but a requirement by law.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):
ADA prohibits discrimination towards people with disabilities and guarantees they have the same rights and opportunities to participate in and benefit from services offered within mainstream American society. This means a medical interpreter must be provided when requested to aid in communication impairments in healthcare settings. Failure to comply can result in substantial penalties and a possible malpractice lawsuit.

Affordable Care Act (ACA), Section 1557:
Section 1557 of the ACA requires covered entities to take reasonable steps in providing meaningful access to all patients regardless of the circumstances. Covered entities are required to incorporate language services into their everyday practices as to better assist LEP patient needs. Section 1557 prohibits the use of a bilingual staff member, child or family member to be used as a medical interpreter.

Immigrants Are in Dire Need of A Professional Medical Interpreter; Part 2 will discuss the detrimental outcomes and risks faced when the law is not abided by and a professional medical interpreter is not provided. Part 2 will also detail methods used to access a medical interpreter and how a partnership with a language service company (LSC) can eliminate potential life threatening risks.

Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a WBENC-Certified Women Business Enterprise with 20 years of language service experience. A global network of highly skilled interpreters and translators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for on-site, telephonic and video remote interpretation services. Our linguists are available in over 350 languages and dialects, and our network includes certified interpreters and translators. Our work is guaranteed with a $1 Million Errors & Omissions policy, so that you can be confident that your project will be completed with the highest level of quality and professionalism within the field. For more information contact us at 1-877-567-8449 or visit our website at

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