Working with professional interpreters saves time… and money!

How much time do patients spend in the Emergency Room? The following chart compares how much time they spend there with different types of language assistance.

  • Telephonic interpreters: 141 minutes
  • Bilingual provider: 153 minutes
  • In-person interpreter: 116 minutes.

The in-person interpreter is the clear winner. Having interpreted in the Emergency Department, I know the anxiety of the patients in that environment, and the pace the medical providers have to maintain. I remember getting a phone call.
“Helen, the ambulance is on the way to Lahey Clinic. Can you be there in 15 minutes?”
“Let me take a few minutes to shut down what I’m doing. What’s up?”
“There were five Hispanics in a car crash. They need you now.”
“I’m on my way.”

There is no reason at all the telephonic interpreter can’t work while the ambulance is on they way, and an in-person interpreter can’t start driving at the same time. The telephonic interpreter continues until the in-person interpreter arrives and takes over. The challenge that day was interpreting for five patients… and not giving them information about each other!

Back to the abstract, however… the facts show that the in-person interpreter cuts the time significantly.

That’s a reduction of almost 30 minutes over the telephonic interpreter time, and almost 40 minutes over the bilingual provider time. Could this mean the communication was going more smoothly? Could this also mean that other patients gets treatment more promptly, and the whole community benefits?

This information was excerpted from an abstract published in PubMed, from an article published in August of 2012: Comparison of throughput times for limited English proficient patient visits in the emergency department between different interpreter modalities. Click here for the PubMed abstract.

Professional language interpretation at admission and discharge also shortens length of stay by 0.75 to 1.47 days and readmission rates. Click here for more information on that topic! In Oregon, a day in the hospital costs about $2000. So if working with a professional interpreter at admission and discharge saves at least $1500, why do we have a problem justifying this?