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Breaking The Language Barrier

Breaking The Language BarrierUsing an innovative new approach, two of Tufts’ major teaching hospitals are helping non-English speaking patients understand their treatments. Brighton, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.23.02] Two years ago, Massachusetts passed an initiative requiring hospitals to provide trained medical interpreters to every patient who needs them. While some criticized the new policy as potentially expensive and hard to follow, two of Tufts' teaching hospitals turned the mandate into a unique opportunity. Thanks to their innovation, St. Elizabeth's Medical Center and Tufts-New England Medical Center are helping more patients than ever.

"St. Elizabeth's is one of several hospitals that have made an opportunity out of what many in health care initially saw as an onerous government requirement," reported The Boston Globe.

In 1995, five years before the law was passed, St. Elizabeth's - a teaching hospital for Tufts School of Medicine -- hired its first Russian interpreter. Since then, the program has been wildly successful.

"Spurred by [translators] and a growing team of Russian doctors and nurses, the hospital has made its first serious inroads into the Russian community that surrounds its Brighton campus," reported the Globe.

Many attribute the success to quality interpreters and positive word of mouth - which has grown their client base beyond all expectations.

"At St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton, Mass., annual visits from Russian-speaking patients have jumped from 500 in 1995 -- when the hospital hired its first interpreter -- to 17,000 last year," reported Boston's WVCB-TV. "They currently have four full-time interpreters."

It is not surprising that the translators have has a strong impact on the patients.

The presence of a medically trained translator who can explain technical information to patients is a precious commodity. The Globe praised the program, reporting "English-speaking patients wish they had such advocates."

Translators at St. Elizabeth's often go beyond the call of duty. A translator is frequently the first person to receive a call from a sick patient. Many call cabs, locate family members, and address a host of other issues along the way.

And St. Elizabeth's isn't the only hospital successfully implementing the program.

Tufts-New England Medical Center (T-NEMC) is making waves with its Chinese translation program. Located near Chinatown, T-NEMC is an ideal location to serve Cantonese and Mandarin speaking patients.

With many hospitals like T-NEMC and St. Elizabeth's working to fill language niches, patients all over the state are receiving better care.

As one thankful St. Elizabeth's patient said of her translator (in Russian) to the Globe, "We're from one culture. She always understands."


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