Interpretation and Translation Services in Healthcare

Hospital Translator vs. Hospital Interpreter: What’s the Difference?

Translators and interpreters both work to provide meaningful communication between different languages. However, they use different mediums: Translators work with written words, while interpreters work with spoken words. Though there is a clear difference between these professions, the two terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably.

In an effort to ensure that patients have meaningful access to all facets of healthcare, healthcare facilities are required to provide both interpretation and translation services to the limited English proficiency and Deaf/hard of hearing patient population. Qualified interpretation services can be provided over-the-phone, via video remote interpreting, or through the use of an on-site interpreter. Qualified medical interpreters possess and demonstrate the following attributes:

  • Ethics principles
  • Client confidentiality
  • Language proficiency in both the source and target languages
  • Ability to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially
  • Necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology and phraseology


Translation services
must be provided for vital documents, either required by law or containing critical information for receiving federal services or benefits. This includes documents routinely provided in English, such as informed consent forms and discharge instructions.

Vital documents include:

  • Applications
  • Notices of rights (including language access services at no cost)
  • Informed consent documents
  • Complaint forms
  • Notices of eligibility criteria for services
  • Intake forms with clinical consequences
  • Discharge instructions
  • Written tests that do not assess English language competency
  • Any letters or notices requiring a response


Healthcare facilities must provide translation services
for languages spoken by a significant percentage of the population. This is defined by The Office of Civil Rights as 1,000 people or 5% of the population served. Notice that the available language services must be posted in writing in the top 15 languages in each state.

Federal regulations that require the use of interpretation and translation services in healthcare include Section 1557, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Hill Burton Act.