For Non-English Speaking Patients, Einstein Speaks Their Language
When patients visiting Einstein Healthcare Network’s hospitals, outpatient centers and primary care offices speak a language other than English, they could face substantial challenges.
How will the doctor understand that they have stomach pain, frequent headaches, muscle strain or any of the countless illnesses and injuries that are likely to be seen in a major healthcare facility? How will patients navigate an often complex healthcare system? Will they understand what an MRI is, why they need it, and where to get it? And what if it’s an emergency, and understanding what’s wrong could mean the difference between life and death?
Einstein’s Interpreter Services is ready to help non-English speaking patients get the care they need, when they need it.
It’s a massive job. Interpreter Services responds to 47,000 requests a year.
Currently, there are 12 in-person interpreters serving Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park and MossRehab. (Einstein Medical Center Montgomery offers its own interpreter services.)
The interpreters available reflect the dominant non-English languages within the service area.
“We have six Spanish interpreters, three Korean, one Cambodian, one American Sign Language and a Russian interpreter,” says Cecilia Salazar, director, Cultural, Language and Volunteer Services. As a complement to the in-person services—in-person interpreters can’t possibly handle all requests—Einstein also offers telephone interpreters in an even broader array of languages—more than 80.
All services are offered at no cost to patients.
Patients who need interpreters request them when they make their appointments, and the providers arrange for the service.
“You can’t overestimate the importance of an in-person interpreter.”
Requests from Spanish interpreters, says Salazar, are on the rise recently. One reason? “We have been receiving a lot of new patients from the Puerto Rican community since the flooding from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico,” says Salazar.
Interpreters have to know much more than high proficiency in two languages. “When we are with the patient and provider, we have to be well-versed in medical terminology, skill in cultural nuances, experience in healthcare and have a National Certification for Medical Interpreters. But for the in-person interpreter, it goes a little bit beyond just interpreting between the provider and the patient. We also help patients navigate the healthcare system. We explain what the doctor wants in a little more detail. We explain things like ‘You have to go and make an appointment with the urologist. Then go get a CAT scan. Then go to the lab. After that, make an appointment for a follow-up.’”
Recently, Einstein added yet another way for providers to interact with Limited English Proficiency patients. It’s a Video-Mobile interpreter service that offers an on-demand real interpreter at the press of a button on an iPad. There are three units in the Einstein Philadelphia Emergency Department and 54 units across the Einstein Medical Center Main Campus and Elkins Park.
“When the patient arrives, all the physician or nurse has to do is press an icon and that will call up a choice of 25 languages, including sign language,” says Salazar. The patient and provider can both see and hear the interpreter on the iPad.
The Video-Mobile unit, Salazar says, is ideal only in certain instances, such as patient registration and short follow-ups. Due to the high volume of interpreter requests, Einstein is using it to complement in-person services.
In the end, in-person interpreters are central to the department’s operations. Telephone and mobile services are incredibly useful, but they are meant only to complement in-person interpreter. For Salazar, that’s a critical distinction. She says, “You can’t overestimate the importance of an in-person interpreter.”