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Report: Medical Interpretation Key Part of Health Reform Debate in CO

April 1, 2009

Denver - Multiple visits to the doctor to get the correct diagnosis, janitors interpreting complex medical concerns, and fatal mistakes that could have been prevented. That's the reality of the health care system for many Coloradans who speak a primary language other than English, laid out in a report being released today. Francoise Mbabzi, who is with the Colorado Progressive Coalition, one of the groups behind the report, says it's a little-talked-about issue that should be part of the health care reform discussion.

"It's really immoral to have to sit back and watch these things continue to happen and people die because they can't effectively communicate."

Mbabzi says that hospitals and doctors are often forced to use family members, janitors or anyone else available to translate, which can lead to big problems.

"There's a lot of misdiagnosis, there's a lot of medical errors because these people are not trained interpreters, they don't have medical terminologies."

Hospitals say it is very costly to provide full language interpretation services, and Mbabzi says her group agrees and understands. However, she believes that if people, government and providers cooperate to work out a better system, it could save money in the long run.

"If we work hard to minimize errors in medical interpretation, I think we can save people's lives, and save the state a whole lot of money."

The report suggests several measures to strengthen language interpretation programs and language access for health care providers, such as allowing Medicaid dollars to be used as reimbursement for language interpretation. A language interpretation task force will be convening next month to address some of the issues detailed in the report.

A panel discussion will accompany the official release of the report this afternoon at the Anschutz Medical Campus, Education 1 Building, Room 1500, from 2 - 4 p.m.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - CO