The Medical Field and Interculturality

By Stacey
Jan 15, 2016 · 3 min

Any traveller understands that becoming sick in a foreign country can become very complicated, and even dangerous; particularly if it’s a country where you’re unable to communicate in the local language.

The Medical Field and Interculturality | One Hour Translation

Any traveller understands that becoming sick in a foreign country can become very complicated, and even dangerous; particularly if it’s a country where you’re unable to communicate in the local language.

Probably the clearest example of a multicultural society is the United States, which is home to people from almost every country in the world. It’s estimated that 50 million people in the United States have a language other than English as their mother tongue; and of these 50 million people, almost half don’t speak or understand English very well.

Language Problems in the Medical Field

This fact leads to a worrying situation whereby a person who doesn’t speak the local language goes to a clinic or a hospital with a medical problem, and is unable to communicate with the doctor and/or other medical staff. It’s true that some medical centres and hospitals provide a service of social interpreters, and we have even heard of real-time translation software programs being used to make it possible for the patient and doctor to communicate. However, this is not an established system, and on many occasions communication between the patient and medical personnel is severely hampered, both in terms of the patient being able to describe their symptoms, and the resulting communications from the doctor.

When these situations arise, the interaction between the patient and the doctor becomes limited to a short exchange of isolated words and gestures, or often these patients will rely on family members or friends who are fluent in the language to act as their interpreter. This in itself is also a dangerous situation because you may have a translator who is not familiar with the medical field being put in the position of translating instructions on medical treatments.

Translation Issues in the Pharmaceutical Field

These situations become even more complicated when a patient is required to attend a pharmacy for a prescription, although it’s more common to find translation services being offered there. In a recent edition of the American Public Health Association’s official medical magazine, Medical Care, a report was released showing that in four states with growing populations of Latinos, less than half of the 764 pharmacies interviewed had the capacity to translate medical instructions. These states include Colorado, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia. In addition, 35% of these pharmacies provided no translation services, with the rest providing a limited service.

Therefore, the results of this report showed that 44% of pharmacies which were located in counties with a large Hispanic population were unable to translate medical instructions: this comprises one fourth of the United States’ total population. And if this is the situation with Hispanics, then the situation of languages of even smaller minorities is very disturbing.

The Important Work of Translators and Interpreters

It’s studies like these that show beyond doubt that the work of interpreters and translators is vital in a world that’s becoming more globalized, and where countries have more interculturality and plurality.

In these instances, we’re talking about people’s health; instances where our work becomes not only necessary, but comforting to the patient. Translators and interpreters are making a very important contribution to society by making it possible for every person to utilize medical services in the same conditions and at the same level as everyone else.

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