“First do no harm” is a difficult promise to keep when language barriers interfere with communication between doctors and patients. Medical translation and interpreting can break down those barriers. However, quality is of the utmost importance when lives hang in the balance. These examples of medical translation errors show why it’s important to use highly skilled and specially trained medical translators and interpreters.
Is this the most expensive medical translation error? Willie Ramirez and the $71 million word
Willie Ramirez was only 18 and out with friends when he suddenly developed a splitting headache. By the time he got to his girlfriend’s house, he was barely conscious. They rushed him to the hospital, but he woke up paralyzed. He will never walk again. A brain bleed left him a quadriplegic for life.
But it didn’t have to be that way. The haemorrhage should have been treatable, but the Ramirez family did not have access to a Spanish interpreter. So, when they told the emergency room doctors that they believed Willie was “intoxicado,” he was treated for a drug overdose. As Health Affairs explains, “intoxicado” is not the same as “intoxicated.”
Among Cubans, “intoxicado” is kind of an all encompassing word that means there’s something wrong with you because of something you ate or drank. I ate something and now I have hives or an allergic reaction to the food or I’m nauseous.
Doctors only discovered the haemorrhage after days of improper treatment. By then, it was too late. The hospital, which should have provided a professional interpreter, is liable for a settlement of approximately 71 million dollars to pay for Willie’s care for the rest of his life. Read more