How Can We Solve the Healthcare Interpreter Shortages?

by | Feb 4, 2022

Did you know that there’s a growing problem with healthcare interpreter shortages?

We all know just how vital medical interpreters are in the health care sector. Without professional healthcare interpreters, doctors and patients might lose each other between the blurred lines of the language barrier. Patients with limited English proficiency might also encounter difficulties expressing their concerns to their doctors. But then why in the world are we facing a shortage of healthcare interpreters?

Many hospitals rely on bilingual staff for translation because there’s a lack of certified medical interpreters. Not only does this approach put the lives of patients at risk, but it’s also a risk factor for misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatments.

If you look at the data from about 15 years ago, up to 30% of patients in American health care settings didn’t get proper treatment due to a lack of language services. Luckily, we’ve come a long way in improving those stats, but hospitals across the country still struggle to gain access to language services where and when they need them most.

In this post, we explore the cause of the shortage of professional medical interpreters and what we can do to solve the problem.


Why Is There a Healthcare Interpreter Shortage?

#1 – A Rising Demand for Language Services

The leading cause of the crisis is the LEP patient vs. certified specialist ratio. With around 25 million people in the U that speak English “less than good,” the demand for interpreting services is rising faster than the number of medical interpreters.

The State of California had a mere 738 certified interpreters serving a community of 1.7 million LEP patients in 2015. And this is just one state and one example. So, you can imagine that the problem gets exponentially bigger when you look at things from a national point of view.


#2 – A Plethora of Languages to Cover

Did you know that hospitals treat patients that speak between forty and sixty different languages? Therefore, it’s a challenge to provide medical interpreters for all languages. The high cost of on-site interpretation makes it impossible for healthcare providers to afford this many language services.

Although the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters offers Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Korean, Cantonese, and Vietnamese credentials, it isn’t enough. Many LEP patients speak French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic, and Urdu, to name a few.


#3 – Medical Interpreting is a Highly Specialized Skill

Medical interpreters undergo specialized training in medical terminology and ethics. Being bilingual doesn’t qualify you to be an interpreter. You also need in-depth knowledge of the source and target language, and local dialects. Furthermore, you need exceptional communication skills and be able to work in stressful environments.

Although Federal law requires health care providers to provide patients with language access, there are varying regulations regarding interpreting certifications. And it varies from state to state. The situation often leads healthcare providers to rely on non-certified interpreters.


Is There a Solution to the Healthcare Interpreter Shortages?

The answer might seem as simple as recruiting more medical interpreters. But getting linguists certified and operational in decent working environments calls for capital investments.

One solution might be to create a uniform certification process for medical interpreting. When implemented, we’d see high professional standards that lead to high-quality healthcare services.

But until a program like this comes to life, healthcare providers can rely on alternatives to on-site interpreting. These alternatives include:


Over-the-Phone Interpreting

This remote interpreting service doesn’t require the linguist to be physically present at the hospital. With telephone interpretation, doctors can give their patients language access when and where they need it most.


Video Remote Interpreting

Like telephonic interpreting, VRI is a remote interpretation solution that adds the visual element often required for successful interpreting. This interpreting option is easy to use and requires merely a stable internet connection and a device that supports a camera, such as a smartphone or a computer.


Wrapping Up

Telephonic interpreting and video remote interpretation are both cost-effective alternatives to on-site interpreters. And they offer solutions to the shortage of professional medical interpreters we currently experience.

These alternatives make it easier for speakers of ‘exotic’ languages to receive access to quality healthcare even when there are no interpreters that support their native languages on-site at healthcare facilities.

Seldean Smith

Seldean Smith

Seldean is a multi-skilled content wizard that dedicates herself to writing content that goes beyond merely sparking interest in the audience.

Seldean Smith

Seldean is a multi-skilled content wizard that dedicates herself to writing content that goes beyond merely sparking interest in the audience.

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