Medical Interpreters: What Sets Them Apart

The need for interpretation services is growing in every sector of the United States. Hospitality industries require language services to check in and serve guests who do not speak English. Court proceedings require the assistance of a legal interpreter when defendants are limited English proficient (LEP). Companies require language interpreters to conduct international business with partners who have a preferred language other than English. International airports encounter passengers speaking a wide variety of languages coming from and heading to destinations around the world. Hospitals are required to provide language services to Deaf, Hard of Hearing and LEP patients to ensure meaningful access to healthcare information. The list goes on. To ensure optimal delivery of language services, qualified interpreters are extensively trained in terminology pertaining to their industry.

Healthcare Interpretation

Not just any language professional can handle the complexities that accompany healthcare interpretation. Medical interpretation requires extensive training, experience and cultural competency. Medical interpreters have vast knowledge of medical terminology and healthcare programs. All professional interpreters are bound by a code of ethics to ensure the delivery of accurate and unbiased interpretation.

This commitment is highly important with healthcare interpretation, as communication error is one of the leading causes of adverse events in patients. With such a high cost riding on the quality of the medical interpreter’s work, it is more important than ever for the interpreter to be qualified. For an interpreter to be qualified to facilitate communication in healthcare encounters, he or she must have extensive knowledge of:

  • Medical terminology 
  • Medical interpretation best practices
  • Healthcare programs in the U.S. and the patient’s country of origin

Medical Terminology & Ongoing Education

Even bilingual individuals with a firm grasp on both the English language and the patient’s preferred language are not qualified to interpret healthcare encounters without extensive knowledge of medical terminology in both languages.

Medical interpreters demonstrate their knowledge of medical terminology by earning a national certification CCHI or CMI. Qualified ASL interpreters hold a national certification recognized by the RID/NAD. Interpreters who are qualified in language pairs that do not offer certification in the United States demonstrate their skills with alternate performance testing and proof of the successful completion of medical interpreter training. In addition to being tested and certified, medical interpreters learn and demonstrate knowledge of medical terminology through their experience in the field.

Part of the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care’s (NCIHC) professional interpreter code of ethics includes a commitment to ongoing education. This is vital in the healthcare industry, as the latest standards in care and health programs are ever evolving.

Medical Interpretation Best Practices

Medical interpreters are extensively trained in how to best navigate various healthcare encounters. This includes protecting patient confidentiality, addressing privacy concerns and navigating difficult conversations, like end of life discussions, new diagnoses or medication management.

They are skilled in facilitating effective patient-provider communication. The medical interpreter’s commitment to render the message accurately and completely without interjecting any personal bias significantly reduces the likelihood of communication error.

Medical interpreters are skilled in conveying nonverbal communication, e.g., any telling gestures or cues that add additional context to the conversation. By facilitating open and meaningful communication, the medical interpreter enables a higher level of satisfaction in LEP patients.

Cultural Competency

Qualified medical interpreters have an in-depth knowledge of healthcare programs in the U.S. and the patient’s country of origin. If a cultural nuance presents itself that negatively impacts the patient provider conversation, the interpreter is trained to immediately clarify to ensure meaningful understanding takes place. For instance, some health programs may be referred to as one term in the United States but signify something else in the patient’s country of origin.

If the interpreter notices a negative reaction in the patient after stating the name of a health program and suspects a misunderstanding is taking place, he or she will interject with an explanation of the differences between the health program in the U.S. and the patient’s country of origin, along with any additional context needed. This simple practice helps solidify the patient’s confidence in the provider’s credibility and his or her ability to effectively treat the patient. When patients are more engaged in their care in the hospital, they tend to adhere more to care plans post discharge.

At Stratus Video, our video remote and audio interpreters take medical calls 24 hours a day. They handle emergency situations, complex diagnosis descriptions, psychological assessments, and regularly scheduled appointments. They are trained and ready to adapt to any situation they enter, and act as a cultural bridge between patient and provider.

Check out our interpreter qualifications to learn more about what sets healthcare interpreters apart.

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