The availability of Spanish interpretation services in New York City hospitals has improved in the last two years, but more services are needed for speakers of other languages, according to a report released this week by the New York Immigration Coalition and other groups.
The report, "Now We're Talking," is based on surveys conducted between October 2007 and February of 617 New York City residents who speak Spanish or Korean and no English. Officials stressed that the study is only a snapshot of the issue and is not scientific. According to Adam Gurvitch, NYIC's director of health advocacy, the state has made "real strides" in providing Spanish translation services, but a "real disparity" still remains for other languages.
The report found that 79% of respondents said they were able to receive interpretation services in state hospitals. Before state health officials began requiring hospitals to provide interpretation services for non-English-speaking patients in 2006, 29% of respondents in a similar survey reported receiving interpretation services, according to the report. Before the regulation, it was common for non-English-speaking residents to be told to provide their own interpreter, such as a friend or family member. The new survey found that 5% of non-English-speaking residents were told to bring their own interpreter.
The report called for more interpretation services for other patients who do not speak English, especially Arabic, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean and Russian speakers. According to advocacy groups, language barriers can make it difficult for patients to explain symptoms, understand diagnoses and navigate the insurance system, potentially leading to medical mistakes, misdiagnosis or death. They added that relying on nonprofessional interpreters to provide medical information violates patient privacy and could be traumatizing for an interpreter who is a child or family member.
Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a civil rights organization that participated in the report, said, "It is simply impossible to provide quality health care unless patients can communicate their symptoms clearly, understand their diagnosis and knowingly consent to medical procedures".
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation