Update: 13.06.2012

Right of Translation in the Health Sector

According to a juridical analysis published by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) in May 2009 shows, the state is obliged to assure the access to health infrastructure without discrimination. As the report reveals, this implies also that anyone must have access to a good interpreter who can share all necessary information concerning the medical treatment.

Right of Information

In the report, the lawyers Alberto Achermann and Jörg Künzli explain the juridical backgrounds of the right of translation in the health sector in Switzerland. They reveal gaps in the Swiss legislation and suggest solutions of how to imply this right in the federal law. Furthermore, the study discusses the difficult question of the financing of this service.

Although it is a legal duty for the cantons to assure adequate health treatment for everybody, hardly any cantonal legislation contains regulations in relation to the role of a translator in the health service. However, according to the constitutional and international law, no language barriers should prevent patients to get adequate and complete information about their medical treatments and interventions in public hospitals.

In addition, regardless of his or her place of residence and legal status as a foreigner, every patient must get the possibility to give his or her consent to medical interventions and must therefore have access to sufficient information. The more serious the intervention, the more important it is to provide a highly qualified and, if necessary, intercultural interpreter.

The civil law also applies these obligations, so private practices and private doctors are obliged to have the same standards.

Financing problem not yet solved

Corresponding to the current legal situation, the costs of translation can not be covered by the health insurance and a revision of the regulations is hardly possible in short term. Hence the charges have to be met either by the public sector or by the patients. In cases where there are no legal regulations and no agreement, the public hospital is responsible for bearing the translation costs. In view of this rather unsatisfactory situation, Alberto Achermann and Jörg Künzli suppose that other options have to be examined to find a satisfying way of providing a sufficient translation infrastructure.

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