In my previous posting, I mentioned how one of the new Standards for Patient-Centered Communication by The Joint Commission will expect hospitals across the nation to define and confirm staff qualifications in what pertains to individuals’ language proficiency. Within this expectation, interpreters in general, contract or staff, as well as anyone called to facilitate any communication between patients and medical providers, will have to demonstrate their language competency via an assessment.
Typically, both staff and contract interpreters are assessed on their language of expertise before working as interpreters. These are best case scenarios. Interestingly, bilingual staff, who when called to interpret, perform the same job, yet are rarely tested on their ability to offer quality interpreting services.
Taking the above into consideration, and come July 2012, it would not be surprising if, out of the comprehensive list of markers set in place by The Joint Commission, the language competency requirement becomes one of the surveyors’ main focal points when determining hospitals’ compliance to the new standards. This concept is not really farfetched if we keep in mind that these new guidelines are Patient-Centered Communication Standards. Theoretically speaking, in today’s clinical settings, every encounter with a non-English speaking person is handled either through a staff interpreter, a contract interpreter, bilingual staff, or in the worst cases, via family members. But, we’ve all heard it, and according to JACHO, research literature demonstrates it, “relying on untrained individuals as interpreters is more likely to result in misinterpretation , lower quality of care, or even contribute to an adverse event*. Untrained individuals—including family members, friends, other patients, or untrained bilingual staff—should not be used to provide language access services during medical encounters.”