When was the last time you were prescribed medication or saw a healthcare professional? If you accessed health services in your native country, it’s likely you barely registered the fact that you were able to read the medicine information leaflet or understand information given to you without any issues – not counting the medical jargon, of course. When dealing with healthcare and life sciences, not understanding or being able to communicate effectively can introduce a massive amount of legal and ethical issues, not to mention health risks. Patients’ safety must be prioritised and that’s where language service providers (LSPs) come in.
In today’s world of technological and scientific advances, we often take access to information that is easily understood for granted. We are – or should be – protected by various linguistic and information rights; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, is a US law that outlawed discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. This means that under Title IV, Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients are entitled to language assistance when accessing healthcare. Despite this act being introduced decades ago, there have been disastrous consequences after people were denied their rights. In 2010, an elderly Spanish speaker underwent surgery at a Californian hospital, expecting to have a kidney removed as planned. He wasn’t given access to an interpreter or a translated document and after signing an English consent form which he didn’t understand, he inadvertently confirmed the surgeons’ plan to remove the wrong kidney, ultimately leaving him with no kidneys at all and the hospital with a large fine after being sued for medical negligence. While this can’t be changed now, it’s important to learn from mistakes and take the appropriate actions to protect all parties involved in the future.
The Office for National Statistics found that as shown by the 2011 Census, 8% of the UK’s population didn’t have English as their first language and worryingly, the people who said they couldn’t speak English “well” or “at all” were also found to have a lower proportion of “good” general health in comparison to those who spoke English as their first language. The healthcare and life science sectors are responsible for releasing clear and accurate – potentially life-saving – information, something that LSPs can help with to reach the 8% and beyond. More selfishly perhaps, healthcare providers can help safeguard not just their patients, but also their own organisations by avoiding negligent care allegations.
A wide range of healthcare texts will go through an LSP at any one time; prescribing information, medical product information and health insurance claims, for example. Accurate translations are essential to every aspect of healthcare as it’s vital that patients can convey any health concerns at the consultation stage and also fully understand their diagnoses and treatments without risking their health. It goes without saying that medical texts require compliant, precise and clear translations placed with experienced and professional translators – unlike in other industry sectors, a close translation is simply not enough and information can’t be compromised.