In this view, here in Victoria, the state governmentfunds 30 Primary Care Partnerships (PCPs) which are made up of many different agencies including "hospitals, community health, local government and divisions of general practice as core members of the partnerships. Other types of agencies such as area mental health, drug treatment and disability services are also members of PCPs"
Okay, this is a translation and interpreting blog, not one on public health. So what does the above have to do with translation and interpreting?
The answer is quite straight forward: health care professionals interact with members of CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) communities all the time. Hence the quality of language services is important to ensure the quality of health care. After all, health care professionals aren't mind readers and the more relevant details about symptoms we can obtain, the better care we can provide.
Over a decade ago, the "Quality Language Services in Rural Primary Care Settings” project was undertaken with funding under the Department of Human Services Primary Care Partnership Best Practice Funding Program. This project was indicated by Goulburn Valley Primary Care Partnership (GVPCP) and the Central Health Interpreter Service Inc. (CHIS) in in collaboration with Campaspe Primary Care Partnership and the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District.
Some interim findings of this project were published in the June 2002 (Volume 10, No. 2) edition of the AUSIT National Newsletter. Some of the interim findings were not surprising, such as that interpreting services are more of concern to PCPs than translation services. Furthermore, on-site interpreting was the leading method of interpreting, followed by telephone interpreting and videoconferencing.
The diversity of languages in the project's catchment area wasn't surprising also. Italian came in first place, with Albanian in second, Turkish in third and Arabic in fourth.
However, some of the interim findings do raise concerns:
Over half, in fact 63%, of the agencies have used volunteers, bilingual staff and family members as interpreters. Of course we don't know the details and in many case, perhaps, something is better than nothing, but let me express some issues I see. What qualifications and/or accreditation do the volunteers have? Medical interpretation is at times particularity complex, with the need to interpret medical terminology and express it in the clearest way possible, and, as kind as it is to volunteer, it is better left to the professional interpreter. Here quality the of the interpretation can very well mean life or death. A bad interpretation can led to a misdiagnosis with lethal consequences.
What Code of Ethics do volunteers uphold? Health care professionals and professional interpreters/translators work under Codes of Ethics which stipulate proper conduct. To breach the Code of the Ethic is a serious offense which can end your career and even in land you in jail if it involved criminal acts. To just give one example, both health care professionals and professional interpreters/translators must keep patient/client information confidential. Hence there is risk that a volunteer could gossip your private health care information.
Regarding bilingual staff and family members, we must remember that (as explored inmy previous post) bilingualism is a debated topic. Many people think they are bilingual when they are not; they do not have control of both languages to the level a native would. So once again, the issue of the quality of the interpretation is raised. Also, sometimes family members can occult the details or the true nature of the medical condition to their ill loved ones.
Few agencies, with the exception of major agencies, budget for the for language services (both interpreting and translation). There could be many reasons for this, however with Australia's multicultural and multilingual population, setting some budget for language services would be beneficial.
Some agencies use machine translation software to translate information in order to save costs. This is the biggest concern. In health care, the provision of health information/education to patients is an essential duty. Health care professionals need to educate patients about their conditions and teach them ways to get better. The use of written information is part of this. Haven't you seen the amount of pamphlets at the doctor's surgery or at other health care centres?
If you just translate text using a machine translator, the quality of the result is a Russian roulette. Some phrases or sentences might be surprisingly well translated but most of the time the machine translations leave a lot to be desired. Furthermore, medical terminology is inherently complex and a machine might not have such specialised terminology in its glossary. You can try this by using Google Translate.
Indeed, there is a place for machine translations. For example to get the general gist of an article in a foreign language. However it has no place at a medical clinic. I need not remind that the quality of information, and hence the quality of the translation, might mean the difference between life and death.
Of course, the Quality Language Services in Rural Primary Care Settings project occurred over a decade ago. Language services have improved. Particularly, there is increased awareness of the role of the professional interpreter. Yet there is still room for improvement.
Health care professionals must respect language and thus the role of language service providers. Language for most people is just a medium but for the language service provider language is also the end.
As a closing note, being in both worlds, the health care industry and the translations and interpreting industry, gives me an advantage and the ability so see things from both perspectives. I've seen good usage of language services by health care providers and I've seen poor usage. Indeed, the role of language services and how to contact language service providers is sometimes taught as part of health care courses. However it's only taught in passing. One might expect such lectures or classes to be taught be a qualified/accredited translator and/or interpreter but most often than not this isn't the case. So let me say again, there is still room for improvement.