Lack of Foreign Language Translation and Medical Malpractice

Popular opinion argues that many cases of medical negligence could have been prevented with more attention to workplace training, policies and procedures. Although true, the reality is the medical field is an industry-leader when it comes to researching and developing new safety mechanisms and effective remedies. Yet despite this innovation, it is also an industry leader in malpractice suits. One reason for this imbalance is the lack of foreign language translations of medical records and foreign language interpretation of doctor-patient communications. Unlike other fields, understanding symptoms and history are essential to proper treatment. And as the number of non-English-speaking patients continues to rise, so will the number of foreign language translation-related lawsuits.

For example, when a doctor is communicating with a non-English-speaking patient, human communication breaks down. According to one medical association, the problem of lack of medical foreign language translation is prevalent in the U.S., Canada and the European Union, causing up to 18 percent of malpractice errors. But the problem with foreign language translation errors is unique as often the doctor will provide the patient specific instructions for care. But, since the patient is unable to understand the doctor, they do not follow through – meaning their inaction caused the effect but the doctor’s lack of providing a foreign language translation may be seen as a negligent act.

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