The challenges of an increasingly diverse society are being played out across the country every day in physicians' offices, health centers, hospitals, and everywhere health care is provided. The numbers of people who speak little or no English represent a growing patient population for the health industry. Current approaches typically focus on the patient-provider interaction as the main site where language barriers are experienced. Thus, live interpreting—by a trained interpreter or, distressingly, by untrained staff or a friend or family member—is the most common “solution” to the problem of language barriers when they are defined in this limited way.
Hablamos Juntos grantee experiences indicate that that it is critical to understand that language access in health care means providing access not only at the many junctures within a single patient encounter (including triage, appointment-scheduling, registration, wayfinding, pharmacy, lab, follow-up, etc.), but also across the continuum of care, which may involve multiple referrals and settings. Meaningful language access involves the coordination of many types of resources, services, tools, and technologies. Affordability of language access services depends on using interpreters—who are a costly resource—where they are needed most, and using other strategies to provide language access where possible. Though this section of the site focuses on interpreters and interpreting services specifically, we believe that interpreting services are just one component in the constellation of language services that are needed to provide meaningful language access.
In their years of work in this area, our grantees have learned that there are many critical components to providing interpreting services. They have found that the use of trained interpreters must be supported by thorough and continued training and testing. These efforts may be further complemented by efforts to develop community solutions to the training, testing and deployment of interpreters. These approaches, as well as basic background information on health care interpreting and a glossary of interpreter-related terms, will be discussed briefly on these pages and in more depth in the Hablamos Juntos Resource Guide; which, will be released in the Fall of 2005.