Interpreters are key for stroke patients struggling to understand

October 12, 2018

Before he stood in rooms at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas interpreting between Spanish-speaking patients and English-speaking health care providers, Cruz Ramirez did so informally as a child.

When his parents and grandparents couldn't understand a diagnosis or information being delivered by doctors, young Ramirez was the messenger. Today, in his role as a professional medical interpreter, he can pinpoint the mistakes he made as a kid in conveying medical details to his family.

"At the beginning, I wasn't very fluent (in English)," said Ramirez. "So a lot of things I didn't understand."

He uses that experience to help doctors, nurses and other providers communicate with . He also encourages patients to request the help of an interpreter if they need or want one.

Having information in their native language is especially critical for people having a stroke, the fifth-leading cause of death among Americans and a main cause of disability among adults. Getting treatment soon after symptoms begin may mean the difference between being able to walk, talk and write afterward—and not.

But for patients who don't speak English well, a good recovery may depend on more than seeing a doctor quickly.

Dr. Alejandro Magadán is an acute stroke specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Memorial Hospital. The vascular neurologist said stroke patients who've needed an interpreter but aren't provided one don't understand their health condition and don't take the medications prescribed to stave off another stroke.

Generally, Magadán said, those patients have a poor quality of life because "they're going to keep coming back with more problems."

Providers who don't offer a professional medical interpreter to patients who need one may deprive them of quality care, he said.

Research appears to support that view.

A 2017 study found that among acute stroke patients who preferred to speak to clinicians in another language, only 57 percent received the services of an interpreter, and those who weren't provided with an were less likely to receive quality care. A review of research going back at least 20 years found that professional medical interpreters help avoid misunderstandings between patients and their doctors, and leave patients more satisfied with their care.

An estimated 23.6 million American adults have limited English-language proficiency, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For them, federal regulations require hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other medical service providers that receive federal funding to make reasonable efforts to help people with limited English skills have health care information in their native language.

Yet those rules aren't always followed.

At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, neurologist Dr. Nicte I. Mejia said some colleagues hesitate to request professional medical interpreters because they worry the process will slow down their busy schedules. But Mejia tells her staff that interpreters are assets because they help relay accurate information and prevent mistakes, such as a patient not understanding how to take a medication.

Medical interpreters, she said, are well-versed in medical terminology and ethical practice standards, and can communicate cultural nuances that or patients may easily miss. There are also legal and privacy issues to consider, she said.

"At the end of the day, involving professional medical interpreters will help patients get safer, faster, better care," said Mejia, senior author of the 2017 study.

But Ramirez said there's something else professional medical interpreters provide: comfort.

"Just going to the doctor is scary enough for anybody," he said.

Explore further: Interpreter services critical for emergency care

shares

Related Stories

Interpreter services critical for emergency care

September 25, 2018
(HealthDay)—Emergency department interpreters are vital to quality care, according to an article published in the October issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Dial-an-interpreter can help docs get patients' consent

February 9, 2017
There is healthy reasoning in installing bedside interpreter-phone systems in hospitals so that patients can be connected to professional interpreters around the clock. It helps bridge the language barrier that often exists ...

Trained medical interpreters can reduce errors in care for patients with limited English proficiency

October 20, 2015
For patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), errors in medical interpretation are common—especially when the interpreter is a family member or other untrained person, reports a study in the October issue of Medical ...

Spanish-speaking families prefer native language when discussing surgical care

September 3, 2015
Spanish-speaking families are more satisfied with and better understand their children's surgical care when they communicate with the surgical team in their native language, according to a new study from the Stanford University ...

Recommended for you

Studies reveal role of red meat in gut bacteria, heart disease development

December 10, 2018
In concurrent studies, Cleveland Clinic researchers have uncovered new mechanisms that demonstrate why and how regularly eating red meat can increase the risk of heart disease, and the role gut bacteria play in that process.

Study points to optimal blood pressure treatment for stroke patients

December 10, 2018
Aggressive treatment of hypertension in stroke patients could do more harm than good in the long term, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Georgia.

Predicting leaky heart valves with 3-D printing

December 10, 2018
More than one in eight people aged 75 and older in the United States develop moderate-to-severe blockage of the aortic valve in their hearts, usually caused by calcified deposits that build up on the valve's leaflets and ...

Team uses gene editing to personalize clinical care for family with cardiomyopathy

December 10, 2018
A little over a year ago, a 65-year-old woman with severe hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a condition in which the heart's muscle becomes abnormally thick, potentially causing dangerous irregular heartbeats—had her genes ...

Increasing statins dose and patient adherence could save more lives

December 7, 2018
Thousands of heart attacks and deaths from cardiovascular disease could be prevented by patients taking higher doses of statins and taking the drugs as advised by doctors.

Progress made in transplanting pig hearts into baboons

December 6, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. has transplanted pig hearts into baboons and kept them alive for an extended period of time. In their paper published in the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.