If you speak English, Arabic or Russian and are confounded by forms and other
documents and services in the health system that appear only in Hebrew, relief
will come, gradually, within two years.
Health Ministry director-general
Dr. Ronni Gamzu, adopting the ideal of “cultural competence” that has become the
rule in the US and many other countries, issued a directive on Monday explaining
new language requirements for the health system.
Signs in every
institution will have to appear in English and Arabic as well as Hebrew (but not
in Russian and Amharic). Some of the required forms and signs will be translated
into Amharic for Ethiopian immigrants as well, according to the seven-page
directive, which has been published (in Hebrew only) on the ministry’s website
at www.health.gov.il. The documents must be not only translated, but also suited
to the respective culture of the people who speak the language.
no doubt that coping with different cultures and languages is one of the most
important challenges faced by the health system,” Gamzu said.
documents are forms for payment, rights of patients, information on violence in
the family, informed consent before undergoing treatments and surgery, health
promotion and disease prevention. Websites of the health funds and other service
providers will have to be translated into the other languages as
The director-general added that medical staffers who were in
contact with people from lingual and cultural minorities would have to undergo
special training to familiarize themselves with the people’s languages and
backgrounds so they could communicate with them.
The National Health
Insurance Law of 1994, which sets down the right to universal access to services
and a proper standard of care for all Israeli residents, is the basis for
establishing cultural competency, Gamzu said.
The requirements will be in
effect not only in hospitals, but also in health fund clinics and public health
facilities such as well-baby (tipat halav) stations.
Translations will be
supplemented by medical interpreters or foreignlanguage speakers and immigrants
called “bridgers,” who can translate over the phone in real time what a doctor
or nurse says in Hebrew into other languages, and vice versa for the patient.
Information services must provide someone who can communicate over the telephone
in the other languages within 24 hours of requests, the directive says.
family member (including a child) may not be used to interpret medical
information, it reads.
Magen David Adom, health fund information numbers
and other services will be required to provide immediate responses in all five
languages, Gamzu said. He said that the health system must invest time and money
in the study of cultural differences among different populations and their
attitudes toward healthcare.
Meanwhile Monday, the Knesset Labor, Social
Affairs and Health Committee approved for second and third reading a private
member’s bill under which the first payment for a general practitioner, family
physician, specialist, institute or referral form would be determined from the
patient’s first visit and not automatically from the beginning of every
The bill, initiated by MKs Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism),
Uri Maklev (UTJ), Eitan Cabel (Labor) and David Azoulay (Shas), states that this
is important because people are required to make copayments for some services
every quarter. If they see a doctor during the last month of a quarter, they
have to pay again at their next visit in the beginning of the next quarter. This
situation would change with the new law.
The bill would also set a
ceiling of between NIS 140 and NIS 200 per month for copayments per
Any excess would be returned by the health fund without the
members making requests for reimbursement.
Although representatives of
the insurers opposed the bill, saying it would take a long time to prepare for
implementation, committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud) said that the debate over
the idea had gone on through several Knessets, and the health funds had had time
to get used to the idea.
In another month, the insurers will be able to
appear at another session to present alternatives for situations that cause
technical difficulties, Katz said.
Also Monday, the High Court of Justice
ordered the government to reply within 30 days how it would allocate new
general/internal medicine and intensive care beds and manpower in the hospital
The ruling was handed down following a petition by the Israel
Medical Association, which wanted to know what criteria would be used in adding
nearly 1,000 beds plus medical professionals within five years.
justice said the ministry was not doing enough to expand hospital services to
keep up with the growth and aging of the population.