Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lost in Translation

I recently had my first experience using a medical translator in order to communicate with a patient.  Actually, I had to use 2 different translators for 2 different patients in the same day.  One experience was relatively neutral, the other extremely frustrating as the entire conversation seemed to be lost in translation.

At the hospital I'm currently rotating through, the translators come via a speaker phone on a language line.  My understanding is that this has become the most financially affordable way to translate and also allows for access to an increased number of languages.   Speaker phone means distraction from background noise in a busy hospital, a lot of need for reputation, decreased clarity, and a lack of visual ques. 

The frustrating experience involved an attempt to gain informed consent for a necessary surgery.  Informed consent is already a complicated song and dance as it is a multi-step process with nuanced details that make little sense to someone without strong medical literacy.  [The predicament of informed consent can, and probably will, be a whole different blog post all together.]  Add in a speaker phone, translator without proper terms for female anatomy, and language without words for "laproscopic", and you have an ugly mess.  We spent an hour and a half with that patient and I'm pretty sure she walked away more confused than when we started.   She answered in the affirmative to statements of understanding and denied having any questions but her face said different.  I'm sure that I'm not the first to be frustrated with these experiences and I have no idea how to make them better, but I really hope that this conundrum progresses throughout my career.  Part of my interest in healthcare is to educate my patients and I certainly hope that I can learn to do better than what I experienced.

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