Hospital implements new language service
Language Line Service helps TMH to better serve patients from different ethnic backgrounds
September 17, 2001
By JOSH NICHOLS
Daily Press writer
If an individual comes into the emergency room in severe pain, the first questions a doctor or nurse might ask are, “What happened?” or “Where does it hurt?”
A definite problem arises if a patient doesn’t answer because he or she can’t understand the question.
With a large influx of individuals in Northwest Colorado and the United States who do not speak English, this situation often affects health care.
Beka Warren, a registered nurse and patient care planner at The Memorial Hospital, is responsible for bringing a service to the hospital to combat this problem.
Language Line Services is used when someone in the hospital receives a call, places a call or comes face to face with an individual who does speak English.
A hospital employee simply dials an 800 number and tells the operator the language of the person he or she is dealing with. They are then provided with an interpreter over the phone.
The hospital employee briefs the interpreter on the situation and adds the non-English speaker to the line. Phones with a three-way speaking capability have been put in place in the emergency room.
Each employee at TMH has been provided with a reference card to use when they are dealing with a non-English speaking client. It can be used in emergency situations or when an individual calls to inquire about a hospital bill.
Just this summer, Warren said the hospital served people who spoke Thai, Greek, German and Russian. The idea to implement the system arose from there.
In the one week the service has been in place, Warren said it has been used at least five times.
It was used in three obstetric cases, one complicated diagnostic procedure and on billing call from a Spanish speaker.
“There was a definite need for this,” Warren said.
Prior to the Language Line, Warren said a child in a family would often serve as an interpreter, but it was sometimes difficult to speak through a young child. The additional confusion of complicated medical terms made the process even more difficult.
The interpreters on Language Line Services are medically certified to handle complex terms, Warren said.
Another problem that could still arise in dealing with a non-English speaking person is trying to figure out what language it is the individual is speaking.
“We’ve taken steps to help figure out what language they are speaking,” Warren said.
Posters that read “Point to your language and an interpreter will be called,” in several different languages have been hung in the hospital.
Employees can also get cards with the same information printed on them.
Prior to the Language Line Service, Warren said there were Spanish speakers on staff who could be contacted for interpretation purposes, but there was always the possibility that they were not working and could not be reached when a situation arose.
Also, the service offers interpreters for any language, not just Spanish.
“We’re pretty excited because it’s going to be helpful to everyone on staff without an increased cost to patients,” Warren said.
“It’s a good thing we’ve done because the community has requested it,” said Pam Thompson, public relations coordinator at TMH. “It will be very beneficial in dealing with patients.”