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December 28, 2012

Rush University Medical Center Becomes First Hospital in Illinois to Have All Staff Interpreters Earn Highest Available Credentials for Health Care Interpretation

Interpreter staff of 12 receives approximately 10,000 requests a month

Every staff interpreter at Rush University Medical Center has been awarded the highest available credential available to health care interpreters in the United States, making, in December, Rush the only major medical center in Illinois, and one of a handful in the nation, to have all of its interpreters distinguished as such by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI).

When interpreter services at Rush started in November 2002, there were three Spanish-speaking interpreters. Today, the office has a staff of 12 and receives approximately 10,000 requests a month. CCHI requires a board exam in two parts, written and oral. 

“Studies have shown that positive health outcomes for patients who speak limited English are much more likely when those patients receive their medical infor­mation in their own languages,” according to Carlos Olvera, the first interpreter hired at Rush and manager of interpreter services.

Credentials from CCHI help ensure positive outcomes for patients. Roughly 45 million Americans do not speak English at home, and 19 percent of Americans don’t speak fluent English. When seeking health care, these individuals often have trouble communicating symptoms clearly and understanding what their physicians are saying, so it’s critical for interpreters to not just be fluent in the patient’s language but also knowledgeable about medical terms in that language, according to Olvera. Those who credentialed in health care interpretation are better prepared to clear up communication barriers in hospitals.

“A quick stroll through our halls is sufficient to realize how ethnically and culturally diverse our patient population is,” Olvera said. “Many patients who are limited in their ability to speak English choose Rush over other medical facilities because they know that they can receive care in their native language here.”

The office has 11 Spanish-speaking interpreters and one Polish speaker. In addition, Rush draws on agency interpreters to provide in-person or over-the-phone interpreting in languages including Arabic, Man­darin, Cantonese and Hindi, among others. Last year, the office provided interpretation for 54 languages.

The interpreters assist caregivers at Rush in communicating with patients in a variety of situations. Interpreters often assist patients who are about to undergo surgery. They visit patient units during nurse shift changes to help explain the plan of care and stop by a variety of areas to assist with instructions if a patient is participating in a research study.

That process begins the moment a patient arrives at Rush. Included on the patient’s admittance forms are fields that allow hospital staff to determine what language the patient speaks and whether an interpreter is needed. Once this information has been entered into the electronic health record, all subsequent appointments in Rush clinics appear on the interpreter services list so the office can make arrangements accordingly, eliminating the need for the clinician to call them first. This arrangement makes for a much smoother process for the patient and hospital staff.

“I consider interpretation services a part of a multidisciplinary care team,” said Dr. Girish Sharma, director of pediatric pulmonology at Rush. “Their contribution is not limited to interpretation. Their involvement serves to break down certain barriers so that patients, parents and clinicians tend to feel a bond with their caregivers.”


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