Cases highlight need for adequate translation
Failure to provide adequate medical interpreter and translation services for patients who are LEP is not only mandated by The Joint Commission and the Affordable Care Act, but it is a clear and present risk for malpractice litigation. A number of cases have been highly publicized in recent years and underscore the importance of using a certified medical interpreter for every patient who needs it.
In 2010, a Spanish-speaking California patient was to undergo a nephrectomy. The patient signed an informed consent that was in English, and was not provided with a copy in Spanish. He did not have access to a Spanish interpreter. The wrong kidney was removed. When the mistake was caught, the diseased kidney was also removed, leaving the patient with no kidneys (bit.ly/translationerror).
In the mid-2000s in Germany, a translation error on the package label of a knee prosthesis required 47 people to undergo repeat knee replacement.
Also by Brianne Goodwin, JD, RN: Specimen errors carry large consequences
In 2015, a Macedonian patient was able to use her friend, rather than a certified medical interpreter, at a consultation for a vestibular nerve tumor. She left with the impression that the tumor was malignant, which was not correct. During surgery, the surgeon severed the patient’s facial nerve, resulting in unilateral palsy. Only after that did she learn that her tumor was not malignant to begin with.
Perhaps the most famous, and costly of all, was the $71 million settlement for an 18-year-old male who presented to an emergency room in a coma. The use of the Spanish word “intoxicado,” which means you ingested something that made you ill, was interpreted as “intoxicated” in English. The patient was treated for drug overdose when he really was suffering a brain hemorrhage. He became a quadriplegic (bit.ly/translationcase).
One study analyzing 35 claims across just four states found that one liability insurer paid $2.3 million in damages or settlements, and $2.8 million in legal fees for situations where a provider failed to provide a professional interpreter (bit.ly/interpreterpolicies).
Next: Clinical, legal risks