Angry Doctor

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Interpreter of Maladies 3

"The Fresno County Health Department provided only Hmong speakers to interpret for her, though Souvannarath doesn't speak the language. According to Souvannarath, one Hmong interpreter somehow communicated that she shouldn't take the medications because they were killing her. Another Hmong interpreter misunderstood Souvannarath and told authorities that she was suicidal when she was not, which resulted in a two-day incarceration in a dark, cold jail basement cell. For 11 months, her daughters, who were as confused as Souvannarath, were her only real interpreters."

- from From Sickbed to Jail, for Lack of Medical Interpreting, New America Media


  • I can speak 2 languages and 3 dialects fluently, and kinda understand a 4th. On occasions, I have pretended that I do not understand a particular dialect and get the relatives to intepret. Usually this happens when I ask about the language preferences of the elderly patient and the relatives are VERY sure that I do not know their dialect eg Hainanese, even before telling me what it is. Well, I let them carry on with their assumptions.
    More than half the time, these interpreters answer the questions without asking the patient anything! Most times, I can assume that a prior doctor or the triage nurse may have asked the same question, but occasionally, it gets so ridiculous that I have to ask the questions MYSELF in the patient's DIALECT.
    The expressions on the interpreters / relatives faces are really funny - astonishment, relief, displeasure, and finally embarrassment!
    Much has been mentioned about foreign doctors. There is no doubt that they are useful for fulfilling manpower needs, without a need for increase in salaries. However, one needs to weigh the consequences of miscommunication with financial gains. Isn't it better for everyone if the locally trained doctors get paid MUCH more to stay in service ?
    On the other hand, I have noticed that a lot of my younger colleagues cannot speak a word of dialect! And, older patients can't speak Mandarin. And I am only talking about the elderly Chinese. What about the Malays and Indians ? --> to solve this, it may be worthwhile to employ some retirees (maybe those above 60?) to act as translators.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At July 07, 2006 12:04 am  

  • Dear anon,

    I agree with your observations! The older folks in Singapore today are very different from the older folk in another 20 years time.

    It will be worthwhile to look into having interpreters.

    As for the question regarding the Polyclinic doctors, I still think a better solution is to involve the private sector of GPs as well in the overall primary health care of Singaporeans.

    Let us work together rather than competing with each other.

    By Blogger Dr Oz bloke, At July 07, 2006 10:39 am  

  • It's a scary world for patients, our life is at stake in the hands of doctors and now interpreters.

    Wonder who is scarier?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At July 07, 2006 6:24 pm  

  • Dear anon, obviously the doctors are scarier. The interpreters are usually your relatives!

    So the moral of the story is, try not to have to see the doctor :)

    By Blogger Dr Oz bloke, At July 07, 2006 7:27 pm  

  • is it our fault that we don't speak dialect?
    the speak mandarin campaign was way too effective.

    thanks to some people who insisted on eradicating dialects, it's not strange to see younger drs who don't know dialects.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At July 07, 2006 7:42 pm  

  • Thanks for the post, really effective info.
    this page | check | check

    By Anonymous Harvey, At October 17, 2012 2:45 am  

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