The San Francisco County and Alameda County have a high concentration of LEP populations that speak a primary language other than English (44% and 41%) compared with the US average (20%). The San Francisco Bay Area has a long history of language rights advocacy, but there remain gaps in providing language access to LEP populations especially in safety net facilities or community educations and preventions. VHIO was established to fill this gap in interpretation services in the San Francisco Bay Area.
VHIO is a University of California, Berkeley undergraduate student-led organization whose roots trace back to 2007, when it was established as the San Francisco Hepatitis B Collaborative (SFHBC) in partnership with University of California, San Francisco health professional students. SFHBC at Berkeley provided trained bilingual students as Asian language interpreters for two monthly UCSF hepatitis B student-run clinics, which we continue to volunteer at.
Dedicated to helping to stop the spread of hepatitis B, SFHBC partnered with organizations such as the San Francisco Hepatitis B Free Campaign and helped at various screening, vaccination, and education events. Four hundred million people worldwide suffer from chronic hepatitis B infection, which tragically can lead to liver cancer early in adult life. It is the 10th leading etiologic cause of death in the world. Fortunately, the spread of the hepatitis B virus is preventable with a simple, safe, and effective vaccine.
Due to an increase in demand for interpretation services, we have been expanding to provide interpretation and volunteering services for a broader range of issues beyond hepatitis B. In August 2010, SFHBC at Berkeley was renamed the Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization (VHIO) to reflect its expanded scope of language capacities and its service base across the San Francisco Bay Area.
Committed to outreach, we are continually establishing new partnerships and volunteering opportunities.
The Importance of Healthcare Interpretation
Due to convenience, family members and other ad hoc interpreters (friends, untrained medical and nonmedical staff, sometimes children and even strangers) help with interpretation in healthcare settings. Unfortunately, patients frequently report that they do not completely understand diagnoses and treatment when proper interpretation is not available. Errors in translation include omissions, additions, and false fluency; these can result in clinical consequences. There are many medical malpractice cases involving language barriers.
Many LEP patients do not have access to medical interpreters when they need the service. According to one study, no interpreter was used in 46% of the emergency room cases involving LEP individuals. Few clinicians receive training in working with interpreters; only 23% of U.S. teaching hospitals provide any such training, and most of these make it optional.
Good medical interpreters help patients communicate with medical staff. They are familiar with the languages they interpret for, including technical concepts and vocabulary. In addition, they show cultural sensitivity and act as a cultural buffer in facilitating communication.