Demystifying Emergency Medicine Interpretation (Part 1: The U.S. Healthcare System)

InterpreMed’s next comprehensive medical interpreting study guide is all about emergency medicine! This is an incredibly intriguing and exciting medical specialty, but one that is often steeped in mystery and uncertainty for those interpreters who haven’t had the opportunity to interpret in such a setting.

Normally, Nanyi and I draw on our own experiences, as well as incorporate hours upon hours of research to create study guides for medical interpreting specialties. This time, because neither of us have a lot of experience in this area of interpreting, in addition to both of us conducting even more research than ever on a study guide, I decided to reach out to my interpreting colleagues on the Facebook group U.S. Medical Interpreters about their experiences interpreting in emergency medicine.

You can read the entire thread here, but for ease of reading, I’ve decided to distill contributors’ replies and write a series of articles that picks up on some of the most common threads.

Special Considerations in the United States Healthcare System

Before delving into the nitty-gritty about interpreting in emergency medicine, it’s important to understand this specialty in the context of the U.S. healthcare system. Unfortunately, due to our incredibly expensive for-profit healthcare system, many patients do not have access to insurance or primary care services. This results in many patients falling through the cracks and allowing their medical issues to reach a point where they must seek out emergency medical care, OR simply utilizing emergency rooms as primary care. However, one visit to the emergency room in the United States can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars!

Image credit: SIMED Health, citing a 2016 study by the Healthcare Cost Institute

Cost is often on the mind of patients who end up in the emergency room, including LEPs who may also be unfamiliar with how the U.S. healthcare system works. Many interpreters mentioned that the focus of the patient’s visit can sometimes become entirely about cost or how the healthcare system functions, instead of the emergency medical situation at hand. Therefore, it’s important to bear in mind that as a medical interpreter in emergency medicine, you may be tasked with interpreting lengthy explanations of such things. Having a fundamental understanding how and why the U.S. healthcare system functions is key to being able to interpret in these situations.

If you’re more interested in how the U.S. medical system functions, InterpreMed members have access to a free 2.5 hour recorded webinar by Ventura Castillo about the U.S. Healthcare system, medical facilities, and medical professionals!

Social Workers in the Emergency Department

This may be surprising to some interpreters who aren’t experienced in emergency medicine interpretation, but a few of our interpreting colleagues mentioned the involvement of social workers in the emergency room/department. This is not only because navigating the complex U.S. healthcare system can be a difficult task in and of itself, but also because many medical problems have underlying social problems that either contribute to them or exacerbate them.

Social workers can provide valuable support that ultimately reduces the strain on other emergency medicine personnel, such as crisis intervention, coordination of care, discharge planning, mental health support, and most notably: advocacy. Oftentimes social workers in the ER/ED are called in to offer a wide range of support services for complex cases, that can range from suspected abuse to lack of medical care stemming from homelessness.

Part 2: Emergency Medicine Interpreting Settings

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, emergency medicine is a big and complex topic, as as such the emergency medicine interpretation study guide we’ve published is bigger and better than any other study guide we’ve previously produced here at InterpreMed! As such, instead of a single article about emergency medicine interpretation, we’ll be publishing three detailed articles this week. The next article in our series will touch on settings in which a medical interpreter will engage in emergency medicine interpretation. Some of these settings may surprise you!

Emergency Medicine Study Guide

In the meantime, be sure to check out our emergency medicine study guide to practice your emergency medicine interpreting skills. Not only do we have consecutive interpreting practice scripts, as well as simultaneous interpreting practice audios with different speeds, but we have produced a wide range of medical interpreting vocabulary practice activities, including our longest medical specialty interpreting glossary yet. If you aren’t already a member, be sure to join InterpreMed’s learning community for medical interpretation professionals!

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