To improve communication between Arabic-speaking patients and Cuban health professionals working at The Cuban Hospital, last year a 24-hour translation service was launched. The initiative, which consists of in-person interpreters and telephone translation services, is resourced by translators with Arabic, Spanish, and English language skills and has benefited thousands of patients since being introduced.
According to Ms. Liza Reinberger, Director, Health Information Management Service at The Cuban Hospital, the service has improved the patient experience within the Hospital’s Emergency, Inpatient, and Outpatient Departments and has also resulted in safer patient care. She says since the service was introduced, there have been fewer delays and an overall enhancement in the delivery of healthcare as many of the challenges associated with patients and doctors not speaking the same language are eliminated.
“The Cuban Hospital is unique in that all of our medical and nursing staff speak Spanish as their first language. While many of our staff speak English, there are a limited number of Arabic speaking clinicians at the hospital,” said Ms. Reinberger.
“Language barriers can complicate doctor-patient communication but through the translation service, our Arabic-speaking patients can ask questions and get medical information in their language. The translator becomes a medium between the doctor and patient – they become the patient’s voice.”
“We’ve seen an improvement since the service was introduced, specifically in terms of reduced delays in our outpatient departments because our professional interpreters can talk to the patient in their native language and then immediately relay what the patient has said in the native language of the doctor. Our interpreters help assure effective communication between doctors and patients and help prevent misunderstandings. The interpreting service has benefited many of our patients, but specifically the large percentage of Arabic patients who we care for,” added Ms. Reinberger.
Since 2017, The Cuban Hospital has seen a 30 percent increase in Arabic-speaking patients using its outpatient departments. The Cuban Hospital was officially opened in January 2012 as a joint project between the governments of Qatar and Cuba. It functions in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and has more than 450 Cuban staff.
The Cuban Hospital provides all medical and surgical services in more than 25 specialties. The Hospital has seen a sharp rise in the patient visits over the years, recording over 85,000 outpatient visits and nearly 6,500 inpatients in 2018, compared to 63,000 outpatient visits and 4,700 inpatient visits in 2016. The hospital has also experienced a 35 percent growth in the number of surgical procedures it performed since 2016.
Mr. Philip Lowen, Chief Executive Officer of The Cuban Hospital, says hospitals can be challenging to navigate, especially during emergencies. He says the regular stress of a hospital visit is amplified when there is a language barrier, underscoring the essential role interpreters’ play as a bridge between a patient and their physician.
“We recognized the need to ensure appropriate communication between all of our patients and clinical staff and sough interpreters who could speak English, Spanish, and Arabic. We found that this rare skillset was obtainable in countries located in the Maghreb Region, and specifically in Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia,” said Mr. Lowen.
“Today we offer this service 24-hours a day and also provide our patients with over the phone translation, which we’ve found to be an effective solution during peak times. Not only do our patients appreciate the service, but so do our doctors – who have been particularly appreciative of the improved access to over the phone translators,” added Mr. Lowen.
The translation service, which was initially introduced in mid-2014 has expanded from three interpreters to 13 and currently serves between 2,000 and 2,400 patients each month. Mr. Lowen said the translation service has been expanded to meet increased demand associated with the expansion of services at the hospital, which serves Dukhan and communities in the western region of the country, while also supporting the public health system as a whole, caring for patients from Doha.