Healthcare risk from cheaper interpreters

In order to cut costs, more and more county councils are working with language agencies that cannot guarantee that interpreters have healthcare experience, Swedish Radio has reported.

Ali Labriz, head of the Swedish Association of Interpreters, said this could result in an increased risk of a patient being treated incorrectly.

“It affects the quality of service. It could lead to a risk of being treated poorly, getting the wrong diagnosis, and wrong medicine,” Labriz told SR.

According to SR, Stockholm council’s policy is that authorized speakers should be used first. But the problem, says the interpreters’ association, is that the agencies may simply send unauthorized speakers, who are cheaper and increase profits for the company.

“We always use healthcare interpreters if they are availabile,” said Per Dahlgren, the council official in charge of purchasing the interpreter services, to SR.

“Since there is a shortage, it could be the case that there is not always a healthcare interpreter available.”

Doctor Shohreh Salehpour, who works at the refugee medical centre in Fittja, near Stockholm, told SR she has often met interpreters who lack language proficiency. The latest being when an interpreter mixed up the word “lung” and “liver,” she said.

“According to the interpreter, there was a liver spot, and we talked about it for nearly five minutes trying to describe it to the patient,” Salehpour said.

“It is troublesome for me when I feel uncertain during talks with my patients.”