Study Finds Use of Interpreters in Hospital Emergency Departments Reduces Medication Errors Almost by Half

A study published recently in the Annals of Emergency Medicine looked at whether the use of a trained, professional interpreter with limited-English or non-English-speaking patients in hospital emergency departments (ED’s) reduced the incidence of medication errors and other mistakes. The study compared situations in which a trained interpreter was present with situations with an amateur translator and situations with no interpreter. Patients who had the assistance of professional interpreters suffered a far lower rate of risky translation errors, particularly errors related to medication dosages. The findings could provide a helpful model for hospitals seeking to reduce pharmacy misfills due to language barriers, and also for other communication barriers like hearing impairment.

The researchers conducted a “cross-sectional error analysis” of ED visits captured on audiotape over the course of thirty months. The visits occurred at two Massachusetts pediatric ED’s. They reviewed fifty-seven meetings between doctors or other medical professionals and Spanish-speaking patients and caregivers with limited English proficiency. Twenty of the visits utilized professional interpreters, and twenty-seven had “ad hoc interpreters.” The remaining ten visits occurred with no interpreters.

In reviewing the fifty-seven meetings, the researchers counted nearly two thousand translation errors. Eighteen percent of those errors had the potential to affect the patient’s treatment. The percentage of potentially harmful errors, when broken down among the three types of meetings, revealed that meetings with professional interpreters had just over half the rate of errors as the other meetings. While twelve percent of the translation errors in visits with professional interpreters were potentially harmful, the rate for visits with amateur translators was twenty-two percent. The rate for visits with no interpreter was twenty percent. Interestingly, the visits with no interpreter at all had a lower error rate than those with an ad hoc translator.

Among the professional interpreters, the study concluded that an interpreter’s number of hours of training had the closest bearing on the number of translation errors and negative consequences. Interpreters with over one hundred hours of training experienced a median of twelve errors, and only two percent of their errors were deemed harmful. Those with less than one hundred hours of training had a median of thirty-three errors, twelve percent of which had potential for harm. An interpreter’s number of years of experience had less of an impact on the results. The authors recommend requirements that professional interpreters obtain at least one hundred hours of training.

Hospitals and other businesses or institutions that provide health care have a duty to provide a high standard of care and to supervise the medical professionals and other employees who work for them. Medical professionals likewise have a high degree of responsibility to their patients. Measures to ensure accurate communication between a doctor and patient are critical to meeting this standard of care. Hospitals or medical professionals who do not meet this standard may be liable for damages when this causes a harmful medication error or other mistake.

The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist you if you have been injured by drugs prescribed or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 to see if you may recover damages.

More Blog Posts:

National Patient Safety Board Would Reduce Medication Errors, Say Celebrity Supporters, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2012
Electronic Prescriptions Help Doctors and Pharmacies Avoid Medication Errors, Prevent Fraud and Abuse, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, May 31, 2012
Pharmacist Institutes Program of Double-Checking Discharge Papers, Cuts Hospital Pharmacy Errors to Near Zero, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 8, 2012

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