Are Good Intentions Good Enough?: Informed Consent Without Trained Interpreters

Original Article

Abstract

Objective

To examine the informed consent process when trained language interpreters are unavailable.

Background

Ensuring sufficient patient understanding for informed consent is especially challenging for patients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). While US law requires provision of competent translation for LEP patients, such services are commonly unavailable.

Design and Participants

Qualitative data was collected in 8 prenatal genetics clinics in Texas, including interviews and observations with 16 clinicians, and 30 Latina patients. Using content analysis techniques, we examined whether the basic criteria for informed consent (voluntariness, discussion of alternatives, adequate information, and competence) were evident for each of these patients, contrasting LEP patients with patients not needing an interpreter. We present case examples of difficulties related to each of these criteria, and compare informed consent scores for consultations requiring interpretation and those which did not.

Results

We describe multiple communication problems related to the use of untrained interpreters, or reliance on clinicians’ own limited Spanish. These LEP patients appear to be consistently disadvantaged in each of the criteria we examined, and informed consent scores were notably lower for consultations which occurred across a language barrier.

Conclusions

In the absence of adequate Spanish interpretation, it was uncertain whether these LEP patients were provided the quality and content of information needed to assure that they are genuinely informed. We offer some low-cost practice suggestions that might mitigate these problems, and improve the quality of language interpretation, which is essential to assuring informed choice in health care for LEP patients.

KEY WORDS

informed consent language barriers genetic counseling Latinas 

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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life SciencesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Department of Family and Community MedicineUniversity of Texas Health Science CenterSan AntonioUSA

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