A Lack in Industry Standard is Creating Insufficient Care for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Patients:

Everyone in their lifetime will experience an occasion where they are involved in an emergency situation. Perhaps it’s you or a family member being rushed to the hospital due to a car wreck or a heart attack… Situations like these are stressful, everything is moving fast and there is no time for error, especially if a person is severely injured or extremely ill. Medical staff must think fast and be quick on their feet in order to control the situation, ask the right questions, and provide the best patient care. Imagine all of this going on and there being a language barrier present prohibiting the medical staff from getting information like symptoms, medications taken, or medical history of the patient in need. Time is of the essence and major decisions and actions may be made based off inaccurate or assumed information because the medical staff decided there wasn’t enough time to enlist the aid of a professional interpreter. Physicians and medical staff often times ignore established routines, procedures and policies regarding interpretation services because of time constraints and lack of knowledge regarding the accessibility of professional interpretation services.

With the ever growing cultural diversity in America, situations like these are routinely confronted, however adequate communication with patients regardless of language barriers is a must. In 2013, 61.1 million people, U.S. or foreign born reported speaking a language other than English at home. 25.1 million of those people were considered to have a limited English proficiency (LEP), meaning that they had little to no understanding of the English language and could not write, read or speak fluently. That equates to a substantial amount of people at risk to suffer from medical malpractice caused by language barriers. There have been a number of malpractice incidents that have ended in misdiagnosis followed by insufficient treatment due to one word being taken out of context. These chaotic situations can in most cases be avoided by providing professional interpretation services in order to ensure your LEP patient understands and is understood.

Language Barriers Can Cause Medical Malpractice:

In the tragic case of 18 year old Willie Ramirez, a misunderstanding due to a language barrier left him in a condition he will deal with for the rest of his life. Mr. Ramirez was suffering from a terrible headache and was rushed to the hospital unconscious. His family members assumed it may have been “intoxicado,” which among Cubans refers to the effects caused by eating or drinking something that is bad or contaminated, the meaning of this word is not equivalent to the English word “intoxicated.” However the medical staff assumed and treated him for a drug overdose, unknowing that he actually had a intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding of the brain) that continued to bleed for two days as he lay in his hospital bed with only having been treated for an overdose that never occurred. The staff instead of taking the time to provide an interpreter that would have cleared up any confusion, diagnosed and treated Mr. Ramirez for a condition he was not facing, leaving the real condition untreated for far too long, resulting in Mr. Ramirez becoming a quadriplegic. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement of approximately $71 million over Mr. Ramirez’s lifetime.

In an UC Berkeley study, healthcare providers discussed the impact of  language barriers and the inadequate funding of language services within healthcare facilities. The study reviewed 35 individual cases with 90% of the cases having not been provided with the appropriate language services during the time of emergency. In 12 cases, family members or young children were used to interpret and in nearly all cases there was no documentation provided that detailed the language specifications of the patients involved. “The cases resulted in many patients suffering death and irreparable harm. Two children and three adults died. In one case, the deceased child was used as an interpreter before suffering respiratory arrest. In another, the deceased child’s 16-year-old sibling was used as the interpreter. One patient was rendered comatose, one underwent a leg amputation, and a child suffered major organ damage.”

There Are Language Solutions That Can Help Minimize Your Risk of Malpractice:

Language service providers such as Niki’s Int’l Ltd. can provide your medical facility with the language services that are needed in order to effectively care for LEP patients while remaining compliant with laws such as, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which aim to observe the needs of people with disabilities, and prohibit discrimination. In emergency situations, sometimes there isn’t enough time to wait for an on-site interpreter to show up, so there are alternative language solutions that can help you in providing the much needed interpretation services to your LEP patients. Partnering with Niki’s Int’l Ltd. can allow your medical facility to set up strategies and procedures to follow when dealing with LEP patients in order to lessen the chance of malpractice due to language barriers. Providing your staff with knowledge regarding how to access telephone or VRI interpreters and teaching them to ask questions such as, “what language and dialect do you speak,” in order to be paired with the best interpreter for your language needs is a great place to start incorporating new language strategies. If your medical staff perceives accessing interpretation services as difficult and time consuming, they will steer clear of using the services, even if it may be a life or death situation because they believe it will take up valuable time needed to treat the patient. On the contrary, language services such as telephone interpretation and video remote interpretation are very easily accessed as well as user-friendly, and both offer on-demand services that will connect you to an interpreter with little to no wait time.

Telephonic Interpretation:

Telephone interpretation is very effective for situations when you have an LEP individual who needs immediate attention or when you have a relatively simple dialogue that you need to engage in quickly and efficiently. Providing interpretation telephonically allows for a quick exchange between multiple parties and can be highly effective for first responders at accident scenes, crime scenes, in the LEP patient’s home, or on board an ambulance. Niki’s Int’l Ltd. understands the urgency associated with telephone interpreting, and they guarantee that their telephone interpreters are available to connect with you in two minutes or less any time you call for telephone interpretation services.

Video Remote Interpretation (VRI):

Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a video telecommunication service that uses a sophisticated web-based platform to provide sign language or spoken language interpreting services. VRI can be utilized as an on-demand service and Niki’s Int’l Ltd. guarantees their video remote interpreters are available to connect with you in five minutes or less for on-demand VRI service.

The interactions between LEP patients, physicians, and medical staff will only increase in the years to come, so it is imperative that your medical staff set up a partnership with a reputable language service provider in order to get on board with incorporating strategies and procedures that will help in eliminating medical malpractice caused by language barriers. Patient satisfaction, optimal communication and superior patient care doesn’t have to be compromised, ensure the fewest amount of errors and provide clear understanding for all parties involved by enlisting the aid of interpretation services into your medical facility.

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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