150 Languages and Counting: The Critical Need for Interpreters in DFW Hospitals

Nearly half of the patients at Parkland Hospital have limited English proficiency

The health care industry is constantly evolving and bending to meet the needs of patient demographics. In Dallas County, as the international community grows, the need for more medical interpreters increases as well.

Parkland Hospital has 85 medical interpreters on staff — the largest number in the country — and there's a critical need for more.

“This is a 24/7 position,” said Meredith Stegall, Director of Language Services at Parkland Hospital. “If a face-to-face interpreter is needed we have to get them there in less than 15 minutes."

According to Stegall, one interpreter could see as many as 35 patients in one shift, and there's a critical need for more help.

“Just imagine if you could not speak the same language of your physician," Stegall said. "When you’re looking at situations particularly in an emergency room setting, stresses are already high, you already feel terrible, but then you have someone who looks and sounds like you on the screen (or in person) that’s going to guide your caregivers through the process that will facilitate that care."

Nearly half of the patients at Parkland Hospital have limited English proficiency, which is why interpreters are needed for approximately 1,000 patient visits per day. In fiscal 2016, there were 975,000-plus interpretations provided to limited English proficiency (LEP) patients system-wide.

With more than 150 languages spoken by patients throughout the hospital, some interpreters are sign via video conference or audio is heard through a hand-held device. After English, Spanish is the language most commonly spoken among patients. Spanish is followed by Vietnamese, Amharic, Arabic, Nepali, and French.

Those interpreters help with infant deliveries, surgical procedures, physical therapy treatment, medication directives, and to offer comfort for families. Interpreters also help lessen the opportunity of a misdiagnosis.

“Without that interpreter, for 41 percent of our patients we would not be able to provide care, much less quality care," explained Stegall. "If you have a patient that’s coming in with diabetes and they have a wound on their foot, how effective can you be in treating that patient, and teaching them to take care of themselves so they’re not readmitted without an interpreter?”

Interpreters are encouraged to grow their skill sets — some are in nursing school. In the next six months Parkland Hospital plans to add 80 more Spanish speaking interpreters which will lower outsourcing costs.

For details patient services at Parkland Hospital, click here.

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