Interpreter services bridge cultural divide in patient care
Marina Moreno, a UChicago Medicine Spanish interpreter, knows first-hand that speaking a patient’s language can yield life-changing results. She recalled how the health condition of a nervous Hispanic patient improved shortly after Moreno calmly addressed the patient’s concerns in her native language.
“Her blood pressure and heart rate came down,” Moreno said. “It made all the difference for the patient.”
Friendly multilingual, medical interpreters are part of the vital Interpreter Services care team at the University of Chicago Medicine, communicating key health information to many international patients and those patients with limited English proficiency. Interpreter Services is a part of International Programs. This year alone, UChicago Medicine interpreters interacted with more than 30,000 patients, an increase of 71 percent since 2015, recent figures showed. The top five languages requested of Interpreter Services are Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Polish and Mandarin, but they’ve provided services in such rare languages as Ewe, Malay and Hmong.
“We have ramped up Interpreter Services dramatically over the last few years,” said Whitney Westphal, a team leader for Interpreter Services. “We have been proactively going out into the community to let people know how to access us.”
Recently, the department placed two dozen Video Remote Interpreters (VRIs) in high-demand areas across the hospital for patients with limited English proficiency.
These “iPADS on wheels” allow multilingual interpreters to warmly greet patients and relay questions to UChicago Medicine physicians and care teams using real-time software. Patients also conduct live video conversations with interpreters almost as easily as Skyping or chatting on the phone.
“Feedback from patients, their family members, and staff has been extremely positive,” said Diala Atassi, Executive Director of International Programs.
Westphal said that there is higher margin for error when a family member serves as an interpreter. The family member may also want to withhold sensitive information that the patient has a right to know to make a well-informed decision. For several interpreters, the support they provide patients and care teams goes beyond words.
“Culture can impact decisions and make the difference between physician and patient outcomes,” said Eduardo Alverez, one of the Medical Center’s longest-serving Spanish interpreters with more than 20 years under his belt. “We are the cultural brokers between the medical staff and patients.”