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Spanish Translation in the Health Care System

April 1, 2010 5 Comments »

According to the 2000 census, over 21 million people in the United States have limited English proficiency (LEP). Nearly 28 percent of all Spanish speakers in the United State fall into this category. This language barrier can be a serious disadvantage in providing quality health care. It can affect an LEP patient’s access to services, their ability to give informed consent for medical treatment, and their compliance with drug regimens and follow-up. Patients who speak little or no English may be at greater risk of medical error or misdiagnosis if they are not provided with an interpreter, are less likely to use preventive care services, and more likely to use emergency rooms than English speakers. They also need more diagnostic tests, are less satisfied with the medical care they receive, and are often dissatisfied with the quality of the translated material they are given.

Addressing these concerns, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health has issued a number of guidelines which are primarily directed at health care organizations with the goal of providing meaningful access to LEP patients; however, individual providers are also encouraged to use the standards to make their practices more culturally and linguistically accessible. These guidelines are detailed in the Department’s National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care (CLAS). Most relevant for this article is Standard 7, which states that “an effective language assistance program ensures that written materials that are routinely provided in English to applicants, patients/consumers, and the public are available in commonly encountered languages other than English. It is important to translate materials that are essential to patients/consumers accessing and making educated decisions about health care”.

These guidelines discuss in great detail the importance of using qualified translators and the need for establishing procedures that will assure the quality of the translated materials given to the public:

“The use of qualified translators is crucial to ensuring the accuracy of translated written materials.  Organizations should have written criteria for selecting translators and translation vendors. At a minimum, organizations should ensure that translators have 1) previous experience, education, and training in translation; 2) command of both English and the language into which the material will be translated; and 3) familiarity with medical terminology. Criteria for selecting translation vendors should include a review of 1) translation methods and procedures used, from submission of English copy to printing of finished material; 2) recruitment and training of translators; and 3) procedures for reviewing translated materials. Organizations also should have in place knowledgeable people to work with translators or vendors during the translation and review process to determine the quality of purchased translations.”

The section ends with the injunction to “avoid ‘wildcat’ translations (e.g., the doctor’s sister who took Spanish in collage), however tempting the financial advantages”.

Spanish Translation US has teams of life science expert Spanish translators that can work on all life science related documentation from complex pharmaceutical manual to patient customer care documentation and forms.

For more information, visit: Spanish Life Science Translation

For more information about CLAS standards, visit:

Related News:

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) voted in favor of President Obama’s health care reform proposal. They belive it will greatly improve the quality of life for millions of Latinos. The measure is expected to expand coverage to 8.8 million Latinos, or 60%of the currently uninsured Hispanic community.

“This bill is important for all Americans, but it is particularly critical to our Latino communities which have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country. The bill provides access to affordable health care to the millions of uninsured Latinos in this country through Medicaid expansion, access to health insurance exchanges, and subsidies to help low and moderate income families,” said Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the Chair of the CHC Task Force on Health.

A press release from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus:

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Calls for Passage of Health Care Reform

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