Reducing Errors for Patients with Limited English

When an untrained interpreter helps a patient communicate with his/her healthcare provider, errors in medical interpretation are common. However, the error rate is cut in half when a trained medical interpreter is used reports a study recently published in the journal Medical Care published by Wolters Kluwers.

To understand the error rates between ad hoc interpreters and trained interpreters, the researchers audiotaped 32 primary care visits with Spanish-speaking patients at a public hospital clinic. The recordings were transcribed and analyzed. The analysis showed:

  • Errors of omission and answering for the patient or health care professional were the most common types of interpreter errors.
  • Errors were about twice as common in visits with ad hoc interpreters: 54 percent, compared to 25 percent with trained interpreters.
  • About seven percent of errors were rated clinically significant: for example, an incorrect drug dosage or inaccurately describing the patient’s symptoms.
  • The odds of a clinically significant error were about 75 percent lower in visits with trained in-person interpreters compared to ad hoc interpreters.

Read a full description of the study.