Medical Translation Without Trust | The Nation

Adriana sat quietly looking at the floor with her young son, Pablo, beside he. She looked tired. The two had come in for a follow-up appointment for advice on Pablo’s autism medication. The clinician in the room did not speak Spanish, this family’s mother tongue, so they waited in a polite, mildly uncomfortable silence as a translator dialed in over the phone. The visit commenced. Questions were asked, answered in monosyllables; rinse, repeat. Finally, the young patient lifted his head: “Where’s Pilar?”

Dr. Pilar Trelles, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Mount Sinai, is a physician whose native language is shared by many of her patients. Born and raised in Peru, she immigrated to the United States after medical school to begin clinical practice. Twice a week, she leads the psychiatric service in a developmental disability clinic that treats patients on Medicaid. The majority of patients who come to this clinic are newly minted immigrants, many of whom speak little, if any, English, with Spanish and Bengali featuring as two of the most commonly spoken languages among families. Although translation services are readily available, they are not always ideal.

Translation in medical settings has long been problematic. Elderly patients can get confused by the presence of a third party via phone or video device, while other individuals cannot hear very well. In one unfortunate incident, an interpreter mistranslated one word, leading doctors to choose an incorrect treatment plan, ultimately leaving the patient quadriplegic. Even beyond these concerns, there’s the base element of connection. “Families are inviting us into their lives, to share intimate details and troubles that they go through,” Trelles says. “There has to be a trust component, and sometimes it’s very difficult to have that when you cannot speak directly to someone.”

Around 24 million people in the United States have a primary language other than English and have limited English proficiency. During the pandemic, there has been a rise in the use of translators who “dial in” over the phone, but many nuanced forms of language, including expressions and body language, are missed. As a result, mistranslation runs rampant—though it is severely underreported. Not only does this hurt the quality of medical care that patients who do not speak English receive, but it also reinforces a barrier between clinician and patient, as many people do not feel comfortable sharing more than the bare minimum for fear of being misunderstood or stereotyped.

Christin Hakim

Next Post

Pandora Papers Reveal How the Rich Use Real Estate

Sun Nov 7 , 2021
NELSON ALMEIDAGetty Images Time again to check in with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their plutocrat-hunting expedition through the Pandora Papers, the massive leak of documents showing in exhaustive detail how the world’s wealthiest people, and its most famous celebrities, move their money all around the globe in […]
Pandora Papers Reveal How the Rich Use Real Estate

You May Like