Let’s not get lost in translation

Chief Quality Officer Randy Harmatz, M.B.A., talks about interpreters' vital link to ensuring patient safety

By: Randy Harmatz

Before I moved here from Ohio, I appreciated how Florida was a tourist destination with a rich cultural heritage much different from that of the Midwest. But living here has shown me the many ways this state’s history and dependence on agriculture and tourism also impacts health care.

UF Health Shands receives patients from other hospitals, through our E.R.s, from UF Health Physicians outpatient practices and elsewhere who need our language services. We care for diverse students, faculty, staff, tourists and agricultural workers — all vital members of our state’s vibrant economic activity and our culture. Our presence in a college town adds its own nuance to this mix of cultures and traditions.

Medical interpreters are one way we provide outstanding language access to our linguistically diverse patients. Our team of interpreters is a vital link to ensuring patient safety.

In the process of interpreting for patients and translating their documents, the medical interpreter team reports on variations in care that impact the safety of our patients. Because we provide this vital service and have woven this team into the fabric of patient safety, we stop errors from reaching our patients.

Recently, our medical interpreters made us aware of common errors they noticed in after-visit summaries — which provide patients with information and instructions about their hospital stay and the care they received — that needed to be remedied before they could be safely translated. The team’s attention to detail led to chartering an improvement team for after-visit summaries. This is just one example of how their work impacts quality care.

When I reflect on the work of the medical interpreters and the other areas of our language access services program, I am reminded that Florida is unique and special. It’s not what’s lost in translation that is important, but what is found.

Call the Patient Experience department at 352.353.5084 to request interpretation services.