Imagine lying ill in a sterile hospital bed, surrounded by the hum of monitors and the crisp scent of antiseptic. Now, amplify that anxiety with the distressing realization that you cannot express your symptoms or comprehend medical advice due to language barriers. This distressing scenario is alarmingly common in our multicultural society. Still, one organization is striving to eradicate this often-overlooked problem.
Meet Kevin Thakkar, the founder of Americans Against Language Barriers (AALB), a professional Gujarati medical interpreter and holder of a Master’s in Public Health from Emory University. His life mission is to ensure no patient is left unheard in their most vulnerable moments. AALB’s dedication to training medical interpreters is transforming an indispensable yet often overlooked aspect of our healthcare system.
“Language barriers should never impede anyone from accessing quality healthcare,” says Thakkar. “Miscommunication in healthcare can lead to dangerous outcomes. At AALB, our mission is to make such communication issues a thing of the past.”
However, the challenge doesn’t end with patients and providers speaking different languages. The situation often worsens when untrained interpreters, despite their best intentions, are relied upon to close the communication chasm. As Thakkar discovered through his experiences, these untrained interpreters can inadvertently make mistakes with serious medical and legal implications.
Patients with limited English proficiency face a higher risk of medical errors, longer hospital stays, and less access to regular care. AALB is confronting this public health crisis head-on by developing a cadre of professionally trained interpreters capable of ensuring effective communication between patients and providers.
“Medical interactions require precise and sensitive communication,” Thakkar emphasizes. “Interpreters must be well-versed in medical terminology, cultural nuances, and the ethical standards of medical interpretation to ensure accuracy.”
AALB, founded in 2018, offers comprehensive training programs that equip medical interpreters with the skills to navigate not only language barriers but also cultural subtleties and healthcare-specific complexities.
“We arm our interpreters with more than just language skills,” Thakkar explains. “They’re trained to navigate the intricacies of medical terminology, cultural nuances, and ethical principles, always maintaining professional neutrality. Their role isn’t to empathize or reassure, but to facilitate clear, accurate communication between the patient and their healthcare provider, ensuring accurate understanding.”
In addition to their role in enhancing communication in healthcare, AALB is also deeply committed to the enforcement of non-discrimination laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This legislation mandates that no person shall be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance on the ground of race, color, or national origin. Therefore, it is not only a matter of health equity but also a legal requirement that language services be provided to those who need them.
“Every patient has a right to be understood, to have access to health information in their language. It’s not just an ethical imperative—it’s a legal one, under both Title VI and other nondiscrimination laws,” Thakkar adds. “At AALB, we’re steadfast in our advocacy for awareness and strict enforcement of these rights, ensuring that all patients can confidently navigate the healthcare system.”
As America becomes increasingly diverse, the demand for skilled medical interpreters grows. AALB, under Thakkar’s leadership, is resolute in meeting this challenge and ensuring that every patient, regardless of their language, receives the care they need and deserve.