Issue 7
Monday, 07 September 2020
Charles Darwin University
E-news
(From left) NT Aboriginal Interpreter Service interpreter Talena Morgan, Top End Health Service Aboriginal Interpreter Coordinator Craig Castillon, and Professor Anna Ralph.
(From left) NT Aboriginal Interpreter Service interpreter Talena Morgan, Top End Health Service Aboriginal Interpreter Coordinator Craig Castillon, and Professor Anna Ralph.

Interpreter use linked to decrease in patient self-discharges

By Courtney Wilson

A new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia has found that an increase in using Aboriginal interpreters in a hospital is associated with a decrease in patients leaving their treatment early. 

The Communicate Study, at Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH), is aimed at improving communication to provide positive health outcomes for Aboriginal patients who do not have English as their first language through interventions such as the employment of an Aboriginal interpreter coordinator. 

Menzies School of Health (Menzies) Professor Anna Ralph who is the lead investigator of the study, says that although 60 % of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Northern Territory primarily speak an Aboriginal language, interpreters are used infrequently during medical consultations. 

“Using interpreters more in a clinical setting could improve health outcomes,” Professor Ralph said.  “The study showed that health systems changes implemented in partnership between Menzies, RDH and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service resulted in increased uptake of Aboriginal interpreters.”

During the study period, there was also a fall in rates of people taking their own leave from hospital (self-discharge) which directly correlated with the increase in interpreter uptake. 

“The link between the increase in interpreter use and the decrease in self-discharges has long been speculated about,” Professor Ralph said. “When people understand the need to stay in hospital, and feel better supported in the hospital, which can be achieved using better communication and language interpreters, they are less likely to self-discharge.

“Self-discharge is a bad outcome as it prematurely terminates care, and can lead to homelessness for people who had been flown in from remote settings, and is associated with increased health care costs due to resulting re-admission and worse health outcomes due to delayed or interrupted treatment.”

The next stage of the Communicate Study will involve rolling out and evaluating podcast-delivered cultural education for healthcare providers to ensure healthcare providers are better equipped to deliver culturally safe care and exploring ways to increase interpreter availability at RDH. 

The research letter, Improving communication with Aboriginal hospital inpatients: a quasi?experimental interventional study, is available here