Why healthcare translation services are essential for older people

Since language barriers can prevent access to quality health care, translation services are essential for older people with limited English proficiency.

As older people age, it is only a matter of time before they come into contact with the health care system. And a strong health system is necessary to ensure that the needs of the aging population are met. But is it reaching those who need it most?

Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via PBS

Even under normal circumstances, a hospital visit can be nerve-racking. For 73-year-old Josefa Hidalgo (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) it has been a frustrating and alienating experience due to the language barrier.

Josefa primarily speaks Hiligaynon, a language spoken in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines. She lives with her 42-year-old son Eric (his name has been changed to protect her privacy) and her family, who had moved to the United States about ten years earlier.

Apart from Josefa, all of Eric’s family speak fluent English.

Josefa is one of a growing group of older people who have limited English proficiency (LEP). The Justice in Aging advocacy group reports that there are approximately 5 million older people in America who are LEP.

Studies have shown that older LEP people are at significant risk for health problems and often do not have access to health services compared to their English speaking counterparts, making the removal of barriers all the more crucial. languages ​​in order to access appropriate care.

Barriers to healthcare for the elderly LEP

LEP seniors are often first generation immigrants or refugees who arrived in the United States later in life and have not had the opportunity to acquire English proficiency through work or l ‘education.

This presents a unique set of challenges: They are more likely to experience difficulty acculturating or adjusting to American society than younger immigrants. Studies have also shown that older LEP people report higher rates of depressive symptoms than those who can speak English.

“It was easy to tell the doctor what my mother was saying. But the reverse could be confusing.”

The language barrier remains the main obstacle to the provision of equitable health care to older LEP people. There is a high risk that health problems will go undetected or misdiagnosed without clear communication between patient and doctor. This can lead to poor treatment decisions, with the possibility of causing serious damage.

Additionally, LEP people may be less likely to seek health care if it is not available in a language they understand.

The role of translators in healthcare

It is therefore not surprising that language assistance and translation services play a central role in ensuring that older people in LEP can access the health care they need. But it is not easy.

“It was easy to tell the doctor what my mom was saying,” Eric says. “But the reverse can be confusing. For example, when talking about a medical term or how a drug works, we sometimes have trouble translating the doctor’s explanation.”

On the recommendation of a friend, Eric sought professional language services to help interpret Josefa during medical appointments. The health services in their area had provisions for medical linguistic assistance, but Hiligaynon was not one of the languages ​​available at the time.

This is how Eric came into contact with our translation services company, Tomedes. Besides needing the help of someone who was a native speaker of Hiligaynon, her family also needed someone who could clearly explain medical terms and procedures.

“As America’s aging population continues to diversify, the need for language assistance and translation services is increasing. “

Since we have a large roster of language professionals from all over the world, we were able to match Josefa with someone who had the necessary qualifications.

Those specializing in the provision of language services in a medical setting should be proficient in the necessary languages, as well as have a broad knowledge of medical terminology and healthcare procedures. They also need to have a good understanding of what they are communicating, otherwise they run the risk of making mistakes, such as omitting important details or translating key terms incorrectly.

A linguistic communication assistant who is a native speaker of the language of the LEP individual has the advantage of knowing potential cultural issues regarding healthcare that might become a barrier and of helping healthcare providers to address them. manage accordingly.

Another crucial skill for language assistants is the ability to correctly deliver sensitive information. They may have to deliver bad news, so it’s important that they can deliver it in a manner that is both professional and empathetic.

Key points to remember

As America’s aging population continues to diversify, the need for language assistance and translation services is increasing. Healthcare is a basic human right, and language is an important factor in ensuring equitable access to the U.S. healthcare system, so that no one is left behind.

Medicare Statistics on Americans LEP 65+

The US Census Bureau relies on information about registered Medicare beneficiaries (people 65 years of age and older) to determine LEP demographics among the older population. Here are some statistics that can help to get a better idea:

  • In 2014, LEP seniors numbered around 4 million, or 8% of registered beneficiaries. The number has increased since then due to the influx of migrants and refugees.
  • The three states with the most LEP Medicare beneficiaries are California, Hawaii, and New York. The overwhelming majority of older LEP people live in urban areas.
  • Spanish-speaking seniors represent 52% of the total number, with those who speak other languages ​​such as Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog each accounting for 5% or less.
  • However, the distribution differs between states. For example, there is a higher proportion of Arabic speakers in Michigan at 25%, compared to 22% for Spanish. In Hawaii, the majority of LEP recipients speak Ilocano (which is spoken in the Philippines), Japanese or Tagalog.
Ofer Tirosh
Ofer Tirosh
Ofer Tirosh is the CEO of Tomedes, a translation service provider with a diverse roster of language professionals and a decade of expertise in language solutions for healthcare and other industries.
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Connie A. Bailey