Can Hospital Interpreters Cause Medical Mistakes?
Hospitals across the country use interpreters to help doctors communicate with patients who primarily speak foreign languages. In some cases, hospital interpreter mistakes cause patients to suffer permanent or fatal consequences.
Several years ago, NPR wrote an article that shared the story of Willie Ramirez, an 18-year-old man who suffered a catastrophic injury due to a translation error. In 1980, Ramirez was taken to the hospital by his Spanish-speaking parents after falling ill. His parents used the word ‘intoxicado’ to describe his symptoms to the translator, who then relayed what was being said to doctors.
The translator assumed intoxicado meant “intoxicated”, and believed Ramirez was suffering from a drug overdose. In Spanish, intoxicado means that a person became sick from ingesting something – whether it be food, water or anything else. Ramirez was treated for a drug overdose, but it turns out he had been suffering from bleeding in his brain. Doctors missed this diagnosis and Ramirez suffered permanent brain damage. He is now a quadriplegic.
How Frequently Do Hospital Interpreter Mistakes Cause Medical Errors?
Data published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows 9 percent of Americans are at risk for suffering medical errors due to translation mistakes. Research published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, which used audio recordings from two pediatric emergency departments, discovered thousands of hospital interpretation mistakes throughout the duration of the study. Some states don’t even require hospitals to use qualified interpreters.
Are Legal Options Available for Victims of Hospital Interpreter Mistakes?
Depending on the circumstances, patients or family members who have suffered harm due to an interpretation error may be able to take legal action. In some cases, patients can suffer permanent disability or death from interpretation errors. People harmed by these errors should contact a medical malpractice attorney to explore legal options.