In terms of healthcare, there are several obstacles preventing minority communities from receiving the quality of care they deserve. From cost to access to implicit bias against people of color, there are many reasons that black and Latinx populations struggle to get the medical attention they need.
The language barrier for Spanish speakers is one of the top issues impacting the quality of care patients receive. This reality has become even more apparent and more damaging during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is why medical student Yogi Henriquez’s work is so important and is needed more than ever. Her medical translation badges will change the face (and voice) of healthcare for people around the country.
The language barrier for the Latinx community is not a simple matter or a one-size-fits-all problem; in some cases, patients struggle to understand what medical options and treatments are available to them. In other situations, patients are intimidated to ask for help or cannot communicate with their healthcare workers.
Some patients do not even know what medical options they have or are confused by potentially life-saving tips and medical instructions.
Because of language barriers, people might not know where or how to get important medication (such as the Covid-19 vaccine) or might feel dissatisfied with the level of care they receive because they could not speak with their doctors.
Yogi Henriquez knows this to be true on several levels, as a medical student and a Latina. Calling Yogi’s work impressive is a vast understatement — juggling pre-med responsibilities and her medical translation badges is not an easy task. But Yogi is inspired by her Spanish-speaking-only patients who need her help. And she is also inspired by her mom.
“Growing up with an Ecuadorian single mother already had its challenges, but one thing that stuck to me the most growing up was translating for her at all of her doctor appointments. I know there are so many kids who can relate to that and people who are my age that grew up being the voice for their parents,” she told BeLatina.
Through her Tik Tok channel, she educates her followers — over 45,000 fans! — on the importance of the language barrier in healthcare and what she is doing to make a change with her Spanish language medical badges.
The Language Barrier and its Impact on Healthcare
Research shows that the language barrier is a real problem, and it was an issue even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
A 2020 report published in Oman Medical Journal found evidence that language barriers in healthcare caused miscommunication between patients and healthcare workers. It decreased the quality of care that those minority populations received. The report reviewed 14 studies published in both the PubMed and Medline databases, covering a total of nearly 301,000 patients. The researchers found that translation tools may improve the quality of care and patient satisfaction where language is a barrier to communication.
A 2018 study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 6 in 10 Latino adults have issues communicating with a health care provider due to language and or cultural barriers.
Language barriers can negatively impact both patient and medical provider satisfaction. “You don’t provide the patient with the ownership of their own health,” explains Pilar Guerrero, an emergency room doctor at Stroger Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. “You’re kinda leaving them in the dark,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
Medical Translation Badges Are Helping Spanish Speakers Get the Care They Need
Enter Yogi’s medical translation badges. Think of her translation cards as cheat sheets and quick translation cards for medical questions. She takes the most common terms, and questions patients might have and includes the English and Spanish translations for those incredibly important phrases and words.
Her cards allow patients to understand their doctors and nurses better. It allows medical professionals to translate what they need to tell their patients, allowing for better communication on both ends. The better that both parties understand each other, especially in a medical situation, the better the outcome will be, and the more satisfied, safe, and well-cared for patients will feel.
When patients are not heard or understood, a lot can be overlooked or incorrectly diagnosed, and treatment will not be as effective. While translators exist, sometimes it’s not enough.
“I had just started to work in the emergency room, and I saw how many Spanish-speaking patients came in not knowing how to communicate the reason they came into the ER. Doctors would try to get translators, but the phone service would always take too long,” Yogi told BeLatina. “I wanted to find a simple solution to bridge that gap between healthcare providers and patients to ensure the patient received the best quality care and wouldn’t come back in worse condition. Not everyone has a family member that can come with them to advocate or translate for them. Because of this, so many symptoms get overlooked, and so does the patient.”
Sometimes, patients cannot access their patient portal and treatment plan or do not understand their medication directions because of a language barrier. Likewise, doctors might not fully understand a patient’s medical history, symptoms, or concerns.
Yogi believes that these medical translation badges can be a big part of the solution to language barriers in healthcare, and she hopes they will help patients and doctors feel safe and comfortable.
“I hope my badges will bridge the gap by strengthening the trust a patient has with their healthcare provider. If the patient sees their doctor actively try to communicate with them, they will open up more about their previous medical history or even family medical history,” she explains. “This will create a better outcome for the patient, so they don’t come back in worse condition. There’s a lower chance of misdiagnosis, and the patient will feel comfortable going back to that hospital/clinic knowing that they are in good hands.”
While these badges are a huge step in the right direction with the potential to create a major positive impact on the minority community in healthcare, they alone cannot fix the language barrier that exists. Patients need to advocate for themselves, and caregivers need to advocate for their patients, Yogi says. “You’ll have intimidating superiors who will try to get away with racism and discrimination towards patients who don’t speak English. Remember that YOU are their voice. I hope that my badges can create a temporary fix for the language barrier in healthcare until hospitals hire more interpreters. Not only for Spanish but all languages.”
Finally, don’t forget that it is your legal right as a patient to request an interpreter. “It is not an inconvenience. Equal access is a right, not a privilege,” Yogi stresses. “Just because you don’t speak English does not mean that you should be treated differently.”