National Certification for Medical Interpreters Launched

Nov. 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2009 — Patients in the United States with limited English proficiency (LEP) continue to face language barriers that threaten their health and undermine their well-being. But they are one step closer to equitable healthcare with the launch of the first National Certification for Medical Interpreters in October 2009. A culmination of an over 23-year effort, this first-of-its-kind national interpreting standard certifies that those interpreting are tested and competent as “Certified Medical Interpreters” (CMIs). “The launching of a standardized certification process for medical interpreters is a crucial step towards assuring that all patients get the care they need in a language they can understand. It also sends a strong message that we will no longer tolerate substandard care due to miscommunication in our hospitals and health care organizations,” stated Alex Green, MD, MPH, Associate Director, Disparities Solutions Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

“Speaking as a registered nurse and as an interpreter, I believe that national certification for interpreters is a critical step in ensuring accurate communication to prevent medical errors and to improve quality of care provided to our linguistically diverse population,” said Marlene Obermeyer, MA, RN, Marion, Kansas.

“Hospitals across the country should provide their patients with qualified interpreters that can prevent the miscommunications and subsequent medical errors that still occur far too often in some of today’s hospitals,” said Mursal Khaliif, Senior Director of Multilingual Services, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, Massachusetts. “A national certification for medical interpreters has been desperately needed to ensure the safety of LEP patients, and I am extremely delighted that we now have a national standard in place.”

Language Line Services President and COO Louis Provenzano noted that according to a recent study by The Joint Commission, LEP patients are almost twice as likely to suffer adverse events in U.S. hospitals.

“In the highly regulated field of medicine, where doctors, nurses, medical assistants and even our health insurance agents must hold federal and state licenses, it seems outrageous that until now the medical interpreter, who is quite literally the bridge between a patient and potential life-saving care, had no nationally recognized certification standard,” added Provenzano. 

“My colleagues and I are honored and excited to be selected to lead this historic endeavor that will guarantee competent medical interpretation in the United States and improve patient safety and quality of care for limited English speaking patients,” said Dr. Eric Hardt, MD, of Boston Medical Center, and a National Board Director. “It is our mission to ensure that this certification process is credible, transparent, valid and inclusive, and protects the interest of all stakeholders that can be impacted by certification.”

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters is responsible for the policies of the certification program, adhering to the standards and requirements mandated by the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA).

“I am very pleased with progress we’ve made and thrilled that a single national certification standard was put in place in 2009,” said Izabel Arocha, President of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) and one of the founders of the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. “I am especially proud that the National Board was selected by an independent selection committee. The founders did not want to appoint board members; it had to be a process that was open, public and neutral. Now we have to spread the news far and wide that national certification is available and that we collectively have a responsibility to ensure that medical interpreters being trained and hired are truly competent, as mandated by law.”

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