As the United States experiences a surge in the number of people who speak a language other than English, hospitals are responding with more interpreters on staff and technology to break down language barriers.
Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa and Scottsdale Healthcare’s Osborn and Shea hospitals have boosted interpretation services for Spanish speakers as more patients and medical providers request help to communicate medical information.
"Our demand has definitely gone up," said Rose Thumann-Fels, leader of the interpretation and translation services department at Scottsdale Healthcare, where the number of around-the-clock Spanish interpreters has increased this year from one to two per shift. "We do get a lot of monolingual patients. People know about our interpretation services, which makes them want to come here."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 million people speak a language other than English, a 46 percent increase since 1990.
Banner Desert has six Spanish interpreters, double the number four years ago, said Aida Reyes, the hospital’s community and cultural services manager.
Still, there are not enough interpreters to meet demand, she said.
When interpreters are not available, Banner Desert uses a telephone interpretation system.
The three-way calling system, by Tucson-based Cyra-Com International, links medical providers and patients to interpreters available for more than 150 languages, said Michael Greenbaum, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
Use of the CyraCom phones in medical facilities, including 32 hospitals in Arizona, has increased each year as medical providers recognize the system’s ability to improve communication and clinical outcomes, he said.
The company recently improved the system’s speed with voice recognition and instant call routing to interpreters for languages most frequently requested by hospitals.
"It makes a huge difference to those health care people who are going a hundred different ways," said Greenbaum.
While Spanish is the most frequently requested language for interpretation services at the Banner Desert and Scottsdale Healthcare hospitals, Banner Desert has other languages that are requested repeatedly.
After Spanish, Serbian, Korean and Vietnamese were the most frequently requested last year, in that order.
Through July this year, Spanish was followed by Vietnamese, Navajo and Bosnian.
Interpretation services are critical in health care to ensure that the right diagnosis is made, that the right care is given and that patients feel comfortable navigating the health care system, hospital officials said.
"We understand the need," said Reyes. "It’s a scary experience and something you can’t control, especially for those who are foreign and don’t understand our health care system."