A group of refugees in City Heights, California, USA are speaking out about their experiences of trying to navigate the American healthcare system in a bid to improve translation in the medical services. The group, called Speak City Heights, is asking people to sign a petition to persuade health insurance companies to cover face-to-face translation. They say that they want to ensure that their family and friends are safe when they go to visit a doctor or other healthcare worker.
Though by law medical providers must offer translation services to patients, there are many problems with the current system. Most providers rely on telephone translation which can come from out of state, and which often offers patients little control over the gender and dialect of the translator. But even with this system in place, many hospitals and clinics still rely (illegally) on patients’ neighbours, friends, or children to provide translation for what can be very complex and sensitive medical conversations. Prescription labels are also invariably printed in English, which can have dangerous consequences for patients who do not understand the language.
Speak City Heights has shared the experiences of many of its members, including that of one woman who suffered permanent damage during childbirth after she was not able to communicate to doctors that she was circumcised and needed a special procedure before the birth. Other shared stories include that of a woman who gave her daughter the wrong medicine due to the labels being in English, and another who had incorrect surgery twice after confusion in conversations about her symptoms led to misdiagnosis.
One of the ways that the members of the group are raising awareness about their campaign is through a series of photographs in which patients tell their stories. The group has been working with its partner, The AiA Project which uses photography to help residents think critically about themselves and their communities. The photos were printed on human-sized vinyl banners and have become a travelling exhibit that follows the campaigners to public speeches and meetings.
Researchers predict that one in five insured patients will soon be non-native English speakers. The campaign for more consistent and effective medical translation comes on the heels of the Affordable Care Act which looks set to change the face of the nation’s insured population in the USA. Speak City Heights are continuing in their campaign.
Sources include: Speak City Heights, KPBS
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