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Wednesday, June 29, 2011


    Lost in translation
    • Dr. Andrea Hunter, , Nikki Bozinoff and Katie Dorman

Immigrants, refugees can’t get adequate health care if they can’t be understood

Phuong Nguyen, a 36-year-old woman who spoke little English, died on April 21, 1995, after a 23-day saga at a B.C. hospital. Coroner Jack Harding found that Nguyen’s care had been complicated by significant language barriers and inadequate translation.
Nguyen had been unable to communicate her previous diagnosis of lupus to her health care provider. It was only once she was pregnant and suffered complications that her prior diagnosis became apparent. Nguyen’s health care providers explained the serious health sequelae (negative after-effect) of lupus and pregnancy to Nguyen, without the use of a translator. Less than a month later, her child died in utero and she succumbed to complications shortly after.
Similarly, on Aug. 20, 1986, 55-year-old Harbhajan Singh Chattu lost his leg and experienced kidney failure due to vascular complications that had been misdiagnosed as back pain. The misdiagnosis occurred because Chattu did not have adequate English language skills to describe his symptoms.
A B.C. Supreme Court Justice found Chattu’s physician negligent in his examination and diagnosis and awarded Chattu a $1.3 million settlement.
Sadly, decades after these incidents, medical translation services remain inadequate across the country, leaving thousands of people with health concerns literally lost in translation.
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