The influx of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia into Israel in recent years poses many challenges for the country’s absorptive capacity, not the least of which is linguistic.
For example, providing health services entails communicating with patients who often speak neither Hebrew nor English.
The Health Ministry has now opened an experimental simultaneous medical translation service that will link doctors, nurses, social workers and patients who speak Russian and Amharic, as well as Arabic-speakers, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The pilot program, which will operate 24 hours a day except Shabbos and mo’adim, will start off at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Western Galil Hospital in Nahariya and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, along with some units of Kupat Holim Meuhedet.
Hospital personnel will act as intermediaries who will dial the right translator to help overcome the language barrier while treating a patient. The translators have undergone special training for the work with medical translation experts. They will be equipped with medical dictionaries in their native tongue to facilitate translation of technical terms.
According to data furnished in 2011 by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 17 percent of those who do not speak fluent Hebrew have difficulty receiving medical services. Among people age 65 and older, the rate of difficulty due to language barriers reached 23 percent.