Tips for Providers to Ensure Interpreters Are Qualified

Over the past few years, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of using a qualified medical interpreter, particularly by the enactment of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which expressly prohibits the use of an ad-hoc interpreter barring extreme circumstances.

What is an ad-hoc interpreter?

Ad-hoc interpreters are untrained bilingual individuals who help facilitate communication between a provider and a patient with limited English proficiency (LEP), often in the form of family members, friends or medical staff. Studies demonstrate when ad-hoc interpreters are used in healthcare settings, a higher number of communication errors occur.

While hospitals and health systems scramble to ensure interpreting services are available for patients, many are left uncertain as to what defines an interpreter as "qualified".

What makes an interpreter qualified?

Certification can be earned in many language pairs demonstrating that an interpreter meets professional interpretation and/or translation standards. Some languages, however, that are frequently encountered and requested in healthcare, do not have certification paths available. Interpreters in these languages demonstrate their qualifications via experience, education and training.

Qualified medical interpreters are extensively trained in medical terminology and the professional interpreter code of ethics, including essential aspects of healthcare communication such as impartiality and confidentiality. Many hold university certificates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in translation and interpretation studies. One of the core requirements of a qualified medical interpreter is a commitment to linguistic integrity. To keep stride with the continual development of medicine and technology which impact the field of medical interpretation, qualified medical interpreters continue education via conferences and courses, earning CEUs on a regular basis.

Language service providers also require interpreters to abide by a stringent list of requirements and qualifications prior to assigning them to a medical interpretation session. Beyond certification when available, interpreters are typically required to have at least three years of experience, extensive working knowledge of the interpretation profession and the interpreting code of professional conduct as well as the ability to meet or exceed all Joint Commission interpreter qualification requirements.

When patients are limited English proficient, Deaf or Hard of Hearing, qualified interpreters are a necessary component of the patient-provider conversation to ensure meaningful understanding takes place. The Department of Family Medicine and Community Health & the University of Massachusetts Medical School analyzed the use of interpreters, length of stay and 30 day readmission rate of more than 3000 LEP patients admitted over a three year period. The study concluded that the length of hospital stay was significantly shorter and patient satisfaction was higher when qualified medical interpreters were used.

Learn more about the difference between ad hoc interpreters and qualified interpreters, risks associated with using an ad hoc interpreter and how communication impacts patient care in this educational webinar recording hosted by Stratus Video Language Operations Manager, Betlem Nogue-Bonet.

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