Roughly one-quarter of patients passing through the doors of Novant Health’s health care facilities do not speak English, according to Tom Bauer, the corporate director of language services, patient information and health literacy for the health care system. For these patients in particular, bridging the communication gap can be life-saving.

“Natural instinct is to have a family member provide interpretation, but medical interpretation is very different from most translation,” Bauer said. The subject matter can be highly technical and sometimes the message can get lost due to cultural differences.

“There are differences in transparency in some cultures,” Bauer said. He recalled a situation several years ago where a patient believed he was getting an X-ray image of his leg while in actuality he was about to receive an amputation. A surgeon realized there was a disconnect and had an interpreter brought in to clarify what was really happening for the patient.

This is why Novant Health offers interpretation services in 120 languages at all its facilities. The interpretations are conducted in a number of ways: in person, over the telephone or via video, depending on the availability of a qualified interpreter.

The language services include interpretation in Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Hindi, Polish, Hungarian and even dialects of languages, said Maria Claudia Mesiemore, the coordinator for interpreter education at Novant Health.

In addition to interpretation services, Novant Health also offers a bilingual staff linguistic competency program whose objective is to train bilingual providers on cultural awareness, refugee fears and beliefs and cultural barriers.

The program was created three years ago to recognize the diversity of both patients and staff. Secondary goals included reducing expenses by hiring fewer outside interpreters and increasing patient satisfaction.

“Our communities are becoming increasingly diverse, so we’re adapting to meet the changing need,” Bauer said.

The bilingual staff linguistic competency program is open to all Novant Health employees. It offers a clinical and nonclinical component. The one-day nonclinical assessment costs $170 and the two-day clinical test runs $360. The training and testing are offered in all languages and administered by the Language Resource Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The training covers ethics, standards, legislation, regulations, the dos and don’ts of interpretation, medical terminology and cultural awareness, Mesiemore said. Students need a grade of 70 or more to pass the test.

The unique program is only offered in five other health care systems nationwide, according to Mesiemore. So far, 209 Novant Health team members have gone through the program and are now language assistants. Mesiemore said the language assistants are from India, Russia, Brazil, Poland, Chile, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia and many other countries.

Students who complete the program receive $1 an hour for interpretation services. Most people who go through the program are doing so to help out others, Mesiemore said.

The next bilingual staff competency program training opportunity is October 22 and 23 at Huntersville Medical Center. Further information is available at this link or by calling Maria Claudia Mesiemore at 704-384-4858 .