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Study Shows that ER Errors Nearly Double when Translators not Present

Medical malpractice based on errors by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other staff can pose problems at any stage of medical treatment. However, diagnosis errors or medication errors that occur in an emergency room setting can have a particularly critical impact on a patient's prospects for recovery.

A study recently published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, "Errors of Medical Interpretation and Their Potential Clinical Consequences," looked at the potential for emergency room errors with non- or limited-English-speaking patients. The study compared situations involving professional interpreters, ad hoc interpreters and no interpreter at all, and measured factors such as interpreter errors and their potential consequences.

Reviewing audio recordings of patient encounters at two large urban pediatric emergency departments, the authors found that having professional interpreters on staff resulted in a significantly lower likelihood of serious medical mistakes than either other situation. However, errors were slightly higher in situations where a nonprofessional intervened to help translate than in situations where there was no interpreter available.

The study also found that the extent of an interpreter's training (but not an interpreter's experience) had implications for hospital error rates. In conclusion, they recommended that ER interpreters receive at least 100 hours of relevant training in health care protocols.

Communication errors can be pose serious problems in situations involving children, whether they have swallowed toxic substances or end up in the ER or an urgent care clinic due to an accident. The challenges to patients or parents who don't speak English as a first language make it extremely important that emergency facilities in New York City and other urban centers provide adequately trained interpreters to properly serve the public.

Source: Reuters, "Interpreters in ER may limit medical errors: study," April 17, 2012

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