medical interpretation

The necessity of interpretation in the field of health care is growing stronger every day. There are many people in the USA, who do not speak English but have equal rights to access quality health care services. As per title IV of the Civil Rights Act, each health care institution is obliged to provide medical interpretation to patients who have struggles communicating well in English. Luckily, more and more professionals choose the career of the medical interpreter and help patients communicate effectively with the health care providers.  

For some people, it may seem strange not to communicate directly with their doctor or patient and use the services of a professional. There are some simple tricks that can make the work with a medical interpreter much easier.  

Choose a Trained Medical Interpreter 

It is important to value the services of trained interpreters. Working in the field of health care is quite specific and medical interpreters need to be qualified to do the job. Using an experienced medical interpreter is important as it makes the job of the doctor much easier and facilitates the diagnosis and treatment of the patient. A trained interpreter has no issues dealing with sensitive information and interpreting complex terminology.  

In some cases, hospitals and other health care institutions appoint in-house interpreters to use. In others, they rely on agencies to provide them with experts when needed and it is possible to negotiate using the same interpreter whenever possible. This also facilitates the work, since the doctors and other personnel are already familiar with the interpreter and work easily together.  

Make Proper Use of the Medical Interpreter 

Many doctors are used to interpreting for their patients as best as they can or use the patients relatives or children to do the job. Some of them are tempted to do it even in the presence of an interpreter but they shall resist it. The medical interpreter is there to facilitate the conversation and make sure that everything goes smoothly. 

Medical interpreters can often give invaluable information about certain cultural differences as well. They can read the body language of the patient and realize if something is bothering them and tell the doctor.  

Contact a Medical Interpreter Immediately 

It is vital to contact a medical interpreter as soon as there is a necessity to use one. If a professional is not able to arrive soon, there is the option to use over the phone interpretation services (OPI). It is very useful in terms of emergency when there is no time to wait for the interpreter to arrive. The service is available 24/7, which makes it perfect for health care institutions. 

There is also the option to start your conversation with the patient using remote interpreting (RI) and then continue with the medical interpreter when they arrive.  

Meet with the Interpreter in Advance 

It is a good idea to have a meeting with the interpreter in advance if that is possible. Such a meeting can help in two ways. First, to clarify what is the objective of the consultation with the patient and second, to help bridge any cultural gaps.  

The doctor can clarify what they expect from the meeting, what they need to learn from the patient, etc. and thus make the job of the interpreter much easier. On the other hand, the interpreter may give guidance on which questions are more appropriate in order to receive the necessary information.  

As a whole, a preliminary meeting will be beneficial for all sides – the clinician, the interpreter, and the patient.  

Speak Directly to the Patient 

Some health care professionals are not used to working with an interpreter and may feel a bit awkward at the beginning. A very important rule to follow is to speak directly to the patient and not to address the interpreter. It is necessary so that a direct bond can be established between the health care provider and the patient and they should feel that they are communicating with each other. That is why the interpreter always uses the first person – at one point they act as the doctor and then as the patient. There is no “the doctor says” or “the patient says.” The same way neither the doctor nor the patient should use phrases such as “tell the doctor/the patient that” or “ask them if.” 

The rule should be followed regardless of the mode of interpretation – the interpreter may be present in the room, linked via phone or video.  

Use Short and Simple Sentences  

When using a medical interpreter, the preferred mode of interpretation is consecutive rather than simultaneous interpretation. This is used to avoid confusion and to be more specific and accurate. It is recommended to use short and simple sentences while addressing your patient. While interpreters are trained to remember longer chunks of speech, it may be confusing for the patient to answer a few questions at once or they may feel frustrated from having to listen to the doctor talking for quite a while without having a clue what happens. 

When it comes to prescribing medicine, most interpreters prefer to write down names of drugs and the recommended intake in order to avoid confusion. The doctor should be ready to repeat them if necessary.  

In some cases, when the doctor uses too specific terminology the patient may be confused. The interpreter can act as their advocate and ask for further explanations or suggest a simpler term or description of the jargon word. Health care professionals shall keep in mind that this is done to the benefit of the patient and not because of a lack of knowledge on behalf of the interpreter. 

In general, medical interpreters are of great help for any health care institution. They facilitate conversation between the provider and the patient by providing an accurate interpretation of their words. This can avoid confusion, which in the field may be lethal. Following the tips above makes the work with a medical interpreter much easier and more efficient. Besides, in time each party gets used to this form of communication.  


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