Language Barriers to Healthcare is a Serious Problem in the United States

More Than Twenty Five Million Americans Have Limited English Proficiency

The Unites States Census Bureau recently reported that more than 60 million Americans speak a language other than English in their homes. Also indicated was that more than 25 million self-reported a deficiency speaking English.

When an individual with Limited English Proficiency, or LEP, is unable to adequately convey their health situation to a physician, hospital intake staffer or other medical professional, the results may be deadly. When a medical professional treats a patient, adequate communication is an absolute necessity. Without adequate communication, the interaction may result in:

Adequate Communication is a Necessity

Obviously, the medical professional must have access to specific patient information, including, but certainly not limited to, the following:

  • What are the specific presenting symptoms?
  • How does the patient feel right now? Last night? Yesterday? The past few days?
  • Was the patient previously treated for the same illness?
  • If so, what medications were prescribed? What were the results? Are there allergies to medications? Which ones?
  • Is there a relevant medical history that may be contributing to the present health situation?

By Law, All Recipients of Federal Funding Are Required to Provide Interpretation Services

The law is clear: every organization that is a recipient of federal funding must provide proficient interpretation services to those who need it - without cost. Those laws include:

  1. Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964
  2. Executive Order 13166, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency"
  3. Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Regulations
  4. As well, state laws, such as California’s, require health insurers to provide interpretation to those with LEP. (California’s law requires translation with a doctor, dentist, ophthalmologist or pharmacist).

Medicare and Medicaid are two of the many federally subsidized programs. As well, a great number of hospitals and health care centers and organizations are federally subsidized.

Medical Malpractice and Civil Rights Claims Resulting from Inadequate Interpretation

Lack of adequate communication has resulted in millions of dollars of claims throughout the state and country. When qualified interpreters are not present or available, unqualified interpreters are often used. These typically include the patient, family members, friends, and strangers in waiting rooms, halls, or wherever they can be found. Lack of adequate communication has resulted in countless injuries and deaths as well as millions of dollars in malpractice and civil rights claims.

Michels & Lew, California’s Premier Medical Malpractice Law Firm

When an individual suffers injuries or death as a result of a medical professional’s negligence, the victim or families of the deceased victim may be entitled to compensation. If an injury or death occurred due to a lack of the ability to properly communicate with the medical provider and you feel your civil rights have been violated, please contact Michels & Lew for a complimentary, no-obligation consultation with our legal and medical staff.