Insufficient Translation Affects Care of Hispanic Cancer Patients

At the University of Utah, a survey regarding insufficient translation was done among the primary caregivers of pediatric cancer patients who were being treated there. 323 participants completed the survey in English, and 46 participants took a Spanish translation of the survey. The caregivers taking the survey were asked to evaluate their child’s care.

Some of the questions on the survey included how soon the caregivers sought care after recognizing a symptom, the caregiver’s level of satisfaction with care, and whether or not the child was in a clinical trial. The survey also addressed financial and language barriers to the patient’s care, among other things.

Importance of Clear Communication

Almost three-quarters of the Spanish speaking participants answered yes when asked if their child was enrolled in a clinical trial, and about half of the English speakers also answered the same. After verifying the information, researchers found that 32% of the Spanish speakers and 12% of the English speakers had given incorrect information.

The researchers took these findings to mean the participants had not completely understood the informed consent process. For the Spanish caregivers, this was possibly due to poor English to Spanish translation of the information.

Hispanic Participants

Over half of the Spanish-speaking participants said they had problems with their English-speaking abilities. The majority of them expressed feelings that the details and potential side effects of the therapy were not clearly explained in comparison with the English-speaking respondents.

37% said they didn’t feel completely understood by the oncology staff, 22% said they lied about understanding the staff because admitting they didn’t speak English was too embarrassing, and 11% were uncomfortable asking for an English to Spanish translator.

Improvement through Better Relationships

33% of the participants who reported using Spanish as their first language felt that their child would have received better care if their first language had been English. The misunderstandings that can come with insufficient translation can seriously impact the health of a child receiving care in a hospital that is primarily staffed with English speaking nurses, doctors, and other support staff.

One of the doctors as the University of Utah Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City stressed the importance of ensuring clear communication, especially in the case of families with language and cultural barriers. The doctors and nurses want to be able to establish a trusting relationship quickly, but this isn’t possible when people aren’t comfortable asking for clarification on insufficient Spanish translation services.

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