NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 20, 2006

As the Tampa Bay area's population diversifies and demand for language interpreters grows at a torrid pace, hospitals and other medical institutions are rapidly increasing the ways they communicate with patients who speak little or no English, say observers.

All Children's and other area hospitals are meeting the increased demand for interpreters by:

  • Hiring 24-hour services that provide interpreters via phone for more than 150 languages.
  • Increasing the number of staff interpreters and the languages they speak.
  • Contracting with local interpreters.
  • Providing free foreign medical language courses for health care staff.
  • Relying on bilingual employees familiar with medical terms.

The growth in the number of people who speak little or no English nationwide and in the Bay area is driving the trend, say observers:

  • Nationwide, 10 million residents have little or no understanding of English, according to a 2005 study by the U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
  • In Hillsborough County, more than 81,000 residents reportedly speak English poorly or not at all, according to the 2000 U.S. census.
  • And census projections estimate the number of non-Anglo and foreign-born residents in the area will increase.

The 2005 national health care study found that language barriers in a hospital setting negatively affected patient access and satisfaction, the quality of care, and in some cases, led to hospital financial losses, say observers.

The increased costs usually stem from the fact that patients treated inadequately the first time are forced to return, said Cynthia Roat, former chairwoman of the American Translator Association's Council on Interpreting and Healthcare. That means staff duplicates efforts and wastes a hospital's time and money.

Source: Mary Shedden, "More Hospitals Call On Interpreters For Help," Tampa Tribune, January 19, 2006.


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