Colorado Springs, Colorado January 2007. Two-month-old Luzdeestrella Flores-Rios is checked into Memorial Hospital for a surgery to remove her left kidney. The child’s parents who speak little to no English seemingly consented to the surgery by communicating with the doctor through the couple’s older daughter who speaks English. The couple believed that the procedure would be relatively simple and would help cure their daughter’s condition. This was anything but the case as little Luzdeestrella suffered complete kidney failure, had to be put on dialysis, and placed on a kidney transplant waiting list. In May 2009, the child’s parents sued Memorial of Colorado Springs claiming that the hospital did not inform the family about the risks or alternatives to this life-threatening procedure, did not provide the family with consent forms in Spanish, or use a trained Spanish interpreter. The hospital and child’s parents settled for one million dollars.
As we can learn from this story, losing the message is not the only consequence of miscommunication. Unfortunately, bad practices are sometimes only remedied after tragic events like this occur. Thankfully, this hospital has since taken a lead in providing better patient communication access. How can other institutions avoid these types of consequences? While we cannot anticipate every possible scenario, staying informed is the key to the root of the problem. By ensuring that the entire staff is on the same page when caring for low English proficient (LEP) patients, understanding the law and LEP patient rights, and having access to professional translation services can significantly reduce liability of institutions. Placing posters throughout a hospital informing patients about availability of interpretation services can also help to ensure equal access for all patients. When patients and providers stay informed, there are better outcomes for all.