Foreign Language Patients and Medical Malpractice

Recent studies show that medical malpractice is more likely to occur when communication between a patient and medical professionals breaks down as the result of a language barrier. Doctors must ensure that patients have a clear understanding of questions, instructions and diagnoses. Likewise, patients must be able to clearly explain their symptoms to doctors and nurses. This can be quite a challenge with foreign language patients. The language barrier often causes patients and doctors alike to misunderstand each other, which increases the likelihood of incorrect treatment, injury or death.

A Growing Problem in the United States

According to the U.S. Census, almost 20 percent of people in this country speak a primary language other than English. Of this percentage, nearly 44 percent are considered to be “limited English proficient” (LEP). These individuals are likely to need assistance when communicating with doctors and other medical professionals, and that assistance isn’t always readily available. With the number of LEP residents increasing every year, the likelihood of medical miscommunication errors is certain to rise.

Obligations to Foreign Language Patients

It seems obvious that translation services should be available to LEP patients, yet this is unrealistic in many situations. Private doctors’ offices may not have immediate access to qualified interpreters, especially for less common languages. And even hospitals, with their extensive resources, may find it difficult to locate skilled translators. When doctors are unable to communicate effectively with a patient in English, they must endeavor to find another means of obtaining and providing critical information. This may involve the services of a professional certified interpreter, either in person or via conference or video call. It may also involve written communication, for translation of medical records and aftercare documents. Doctors who fail to seek out effective methods of communication put themselves at risk for medical malpractice liability.

Mistranslation and Medical Malpractice Errors

Inadequate or improper translation of medical instructions and information may also result in patient harm. The doctor may fail to understand the patient’s symptoms, leading to a misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment. The patient may misunderstand the treatment options available or how to take medication. Medical malpractice errors may not just be the fault of doctors, however. Nurses and medical support staff may also fail to communicate effectively with foreign language patients. In some malpractice cases, the hospital or medical establishment can be held liable for failure to provide professional translation services to patients who need it.

Patients who suffer injuries or medical complications as a result of foreign language miscommunication deserve compensation and justice. If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice due to improper translation or insufficient interpretive services, contact the experienced attorneys at Rasmussen and Miner in Salt Lake City, your local experts in medical malpractice.