Federal and Florida laws require that translators be used where patient do not have language skills need to understand their care. In most circumstances, the translator does not need to be certified. However, Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.560 requires the appointment of a certified translator absent exigent circumstances in cases where a fundamental interest is at stake. As such, in a situation where the hospital is contemplating involuntary commitment, a certified translator is required. See Pullen v. State, 802 So. 2d 1113 (Fla. 2001). If the patient is indigent and not represented by the Public Defender, the Hospital will need to incur these expenses for the convenience of the Court.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) has upped the ante. The ACA extends previous mandates and explicitly requires insurers and healthcare institutions to provide written translation and interpreting services for limited English proficiency individuals of qualifying language groups.
The Affordable Care Act mandates that all health insurers and group health plans provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) to all clients and consumers.
The US Government has designed a template for insurance companies to use to disclose benefit and coverage information to maintain consistency across all insurance plans. This template helps people compare insurance plan information.
Probably the biggest impact of the changes that come with the ACA is that minor children, family members, and friends cannot serve as interpreters. Additionally, bilingual staff without formal training as medical interpreters cannot serve as interpreters. Interpreters must be “qualified,” which is defined as:
- An individual who adheres to interpreter ethics and client confidentiality requirements, and who via a remote interpreting service or in-person appearance and
- Has demonstrated language proficiency and the ability to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially including specialized medical terminology.
The truth is that communication is critical to patient care. Slate reported on two examples of life changing consequences as result of poor translation:
- After staff misunderstood intoxicado (Spanish for “poisoned”) as “drunk,” Florida teen Willie Ramirez received the wrong care and ended up paralyzed.
- In Oregon, Elidiana Valdez-Lemus died after 911 misinterpreted her address.
Because of the serious consequences of failing to properly communicate with patients, healthcare providers must take note and provide patients with qualified interpreters. The ACA also provides for penalties for failure to follow this mandate, which includes fines, referral to DOJ for legal proceedings, and termination of Federal financial assistance.