Interpretation and language services for patients

interpreters.fwMaking sense of complicated medical diagnoses and treatments can be overwhelming for most people. Imagine how much more so for those who are hard of hearing, do not speak English or only have limited comprehension skills. Without access to language services, this could be downright dangerous and in fact there have been cases where patients have been harmed as a result.

According to the 2011 U.S. Census, English still remains the primary language in the Unites States but Spanish and Chinese are gaining ground. Health care providers and hospitals have a professional obligation to make sure that patients comprehend their care and treatment options.

Now to digress for a brief history lesson…

Access to language services is a legal right that was established in 1964 by Title VI the Civil Rights Act. Title VI applies to all health care institutions that accept government funding sources such as Medicare, Medicaid, National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a condition of accepting these federal monies, the health care institution must provide language services for all of its patients. This also includes patients who are deaf.

When choosing a health care facility it is important for those who require language access services to find out what is available. Larger health care centers such as the University of Michigan have a Language and Interpreter Services Department to provide:

  • interpreters
  • translation services for written materials
  • videophones for inpatients

In smaller institutions it may be the role of the social worker to assist patients requiring an interpreter. Most all health centers have portable interpreter phones that can be used to conduct a three way conversation between the patient, provider and interpreter. These phones are especially useful when an interpreter is needed immediately or the patient speaks an uncommon language. Asking family members to serve as translators can put unnecessary pressure on them during what may be a difficult time. They may not want to tell their loved one of a poor prognosis or may not be well versed in medical terms. For these reasons, using a hospital interpreter who is “neutral” and is specially trained in medical terminology is preferred.

For those who need language services outside the health care field, social services agencies such as United Way or Catholic Social Services may be able to assist to find a local interpreter. Checking with the language department of a community college, or any center that provides English as a Second Language classes are other options.

Take the next step:

  • Learn about Interpreter Services at the University of Michigan Health System
  • Call our cancer nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™ if you still have questions. Call 1-800-865-1125 or e-mail from anywhere in the country. Nurses are available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday.

SusanDaron no captionThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.