Inadequate Use of Trained Interpreters in New Zealand

According to two studies by the University of Otago at Wellington, more funding is needed to address the failure of New Zealand healthcare providers to use trained interpreters. The consequences of the current level of interpreter use, say the study’s authors, could include inadequate healthcare for patients with limited English proficiency. “When you are consulting with any patient, good communication is essential to achieve the best diagnosis,” says lead author Ben Gray from the university’s Department of Primary Care and General Practice. “This is probably even more true of new migrants, refugees, or patients with limited English, where there is the potential problem of cultural misunderstandings in addition to language problems.” The university’s first study analyzed a week of interpreter use at Wellington’s Newtown Union Health Service, where a quarter of the patients come from a refugee background. The investigators found that an interpreter was used for 14% or 53 consultations. In 26 of the consultations, a trained interpreter was provided, but these were more complex scheduled cases. “Despite recommendations saying you should use a professional interpreter all the time, interpreter use in our clinic is split 50-50 between professionals and family members,” Gray notes. “Now although this is working relatively well, it is not ideal.” The second study polled 141 senior healthcare professionals in Hutt Valley, Wellington, and Kenepuru hospitals. The researchers then followed up the poll with interviews of 20 clinicians who were asked about their use of interpreters when diagnosing patients with limited English proficiency. They found that when seeing LEP patients only 14% of doctors said they always used an interpreter, even though they were well aware of how to access them. None of the 20 clinicians used a professional interpreter to help with a diagnosis.
From “Lack of Trained Interpreter Use May Affect Patients and Doctors”
University of Otago (New Zealand) (09/09/11)