MN launches health care interpreter project

When patients are sick or in pain, it’s hard enough to communicate effectively with a doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional. If the patient doesn’t speak English very well, the difficulties often get multiplied – for the health care provider as well as for the patient.

As Minnesota becomes more diverse, there’s a growing need for qualified health care interpreters who can help negotiate the conversation between patients with limited English-speaking skills and their health care providers. Unfortunately there’s also a shortage of interpreters, especially in rural Minnesota.

The state is now about to launch a new interpreter services quality initiative to break down some of these barriers. It will be implemented in two phases, starting with establishing a statewide roster of people who are available to provide spoken language interpreter services in health care settings.

Interpreters may apply online immediately; there’s a form to fill out and a $50 application fee.

The roster will allow health care providers in Minnesota, for the first time, to connect more readily with health care interpreters for the 21 non-English languages most commonly spoken in Minnesota, as well as over 100 other possible languages. The Web-based roster also will be a clearinghouse for language interpreter services for specific health-related subjects and health care specialties.

In the second phase, a registry will be established for health care language interpreters in MInnesota. The state also is joining a broader international effort to professionalize the field of health care language interpreters by defining the standards that interpreters must meet. The longer-range goal: to develop a formal certification program that ensures health care interpreters are trained and skilled at what they do.

Infomercial fitness gear: sorting through the hype

The TV and Internet infomercials for home workout equipment offer glowing promises: Great legs! Sexier abs! Buy now!

But before you reach for your wallet, do some research to make sure you won’t be wasting your money on something you ultimately won’t use, advises Consumer Reports in a special New Year’s do-it-yourself guide to diet and fitness.

Home workout equipment is a big business. While gym memberships have been sliding after peaking at 42.7 million in 2006, sales of home equipment continue to grow.

It’s not easy, though, to sort through all the claims touting the latest and greatest ab cruncher, cardio gadget or other gizmo. The recommendation from Consumer Reports: Shop carefully and make your decisions based on your budget, space constraints and workout preferences, not on whichever sales pitch is the most alluring.

To find out whether the exercise equipment hawked on the infomercials actually delivers what they promise, Consumer Reports assembled a panel of testers who looked at the ads, tried the devices and then reported their experiences. Their review, plus recommendations on the six best buys, can be found online here.

Consumer Reports also has this advice for shoppers:

– Read the fine print. Some devices come with disclaimers.

– Calculate the total cost. Include shipping, unless otherwise specified, and any sales tax.

– Be careful of trials. A 30-day-money-back guarantee might sound good, but returning the product can be an expensive hassle if the item is heavy or bulky, or if the buyer is required to pay return shipping.

– Ask about return policies. Verify the company’s return address and find out how long it’ll take to get a refund in case of return.

– Before selecting the right machine, check your space. Elliptical exercisers and nonfolding treadmills are about the size of a small couch and most stationary bikes are a bit smaller. Folding treadmills are generally shorter than nonfolding models, and can be stored upright. Elliptical exercisers take up more vertical space.

– Make it comfortable. Pay special attention to ergonomics. Treadmills should match the user’s stride. Elliptical machines should be tested to ensure they don’t cause discomfort in the knees or hips. Stationary bikes should be the right size and provide a comfortable seat and pedals.

– Look at the features. The best machines offer a clear display of easy-to-use controls that show some combination of heart rate, calories burned, speed, incline or resistance levels, and details such as time and distance. Programs should allow you to adjust routines based on your fitness level and have heart-rate-controlled workouts that consider your age, weight and gender.

Health internship program reaches 300-plus students

The figures have been tallied for the Minnesota Hospital Association’s summer internship program for high school and college students, and they’re impressive.

During the summer of 2008, 104 employer organizations provided 84,425 hours of internship experience to 303 high school and post-secondary students. The students gained their experience at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and a variety of other health care settings.

The summer health care internship program is a chance to bring students and employers together. Not only does it give students exposure to what it’s really like to work at a hospital or in a home health agency, but it also allows employers to connect with potential future workers and raise community awareness of the importance of health care careers.

Internships are for six to 12 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day and pay at least minimum wage. The program is funded through a contract with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care.

In case you’re thinking ahead to the summer of 2009, several health care organizations have already signed up to offer internships this year. The list is updated weekly as more employers are added.