California is a complex state in which 1/3 of the participants in the Medi-Cal healthcare program do not speak English as their primary language, making this state a natural testing ground for techniques aimed at improving multilingual health education. A recently passed law is now requiring the Department of Health Care Services to field test translated materials, using focus groups or other native speakers. The goal is to ensure that medical language is understandable and culturally appropriate. Poorly written and translated medical information endangers the lives of patients. But is using lay people the solution? It may seem cost effective at the outset, but does this make sense?
First of all, translation is a professional skill. The ability to clearly understand the English document and create a 5th grade reading level translation of it that is accurate and culturally fitting is the skill of a healthcare translator. And secondly, California and Medi-Cal are missing all of the benefits that come from a translation management system, one that captures the asset created by a solid translation and can reuse it over time, thus diminishing long term cost. We at aiaTranslations think investing in professional translation services is the key to a long-term quality strategy of patient education in diverse communities.
For more on Med-Cal, click here.