Working as a Team with Medical Interpreters

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

Medical interpreters play an important role in hospital teams today when treating the limited English proficient (LEP) and Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (HoH) patient population. There are several actions that healthcare providers can take to more effectively work as a team with medical interpreters. Top tips include preparing the interpreter for the session, speaking directly to the patient, speaking simply and checking for understanding. Most important of all, healthcare providers must use a qualified medical interpreter in order to ensure that the message is being conveyed accurately and completely.

Prepare the Interpreter

A short briefing is helpful for the interpreter to clarify appointment goals and identify the tone of the conversation. Qualified interpreters are trained to match the tone of the conversation that will take place.

It is also helpful for the interpreter to know any patient information and/or clinical background which may be culturally sensitive to the patient. While medical interpreters are extensively trained in medical terminology, it is helpful to know the nature of the conversation prior to interpreting.

Speak Directly to the Patient

Maintain eye contact with the patient, speaking directly to the patient not the interpreter. The interpreter serves as a funnel for communication rather than a participant. The interpreter will always use the first person whether speaking as the patient or the provider.

If something culturally sensitive is negatively impacting communication in some way, the interpreter will act as a cultural broker to clarify. The interpreter may interject brief explanations for the sake of clarity. Interpreters who are medically qualified can quickly determine when a cultural difference is impacting patient-provider communication and act accordingly. Healthcare programs and medical terminology from one country may function differently than in the United States and therefore require further explanation than a literal interpretation.

Communicate Simply

When communicating via a medical interpreter, it is best to use short, simple sentences. Medical interpreting takes place consecutively, meaning that the provider speaks, the interpreter conveys the message into the target language, the patient responds and the interpreter then conveys his or her message into English. While interpreters are trained to retain, interpret and deliver large pieces of communication accurately and completely, critical data such as medication names and doses may need to be repeated to ensure clarity.

Check for Understanding

Much of the patient’s understanding will be apparent through his or her nonverbal communication. Affirmative gestures and body language may indicate that the provider’s message is being understood. To ensure that meaningful access to healthcare information is taking place, the healthcare provider should check to ensure that the patient understands his or her message. The interpreter will then relay the response of the patient and clarify further if needed.

Use a Medically Qualified Interpreter

study by the Medical Effectiveness Research Center for Diverse Populations shows that when family members, friends or other untrained individuals interpret in medical situations, a substantially higher number of interpretation errors occur. Qualified medical interpreters possess and demonstrate the following attributes: language proficiency in both the source and target languages, ability to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially, the use of necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology and phraseology and the ethical codes of conduct (ie: maintain client confidentiality). Click here to learn more about the importance of using a qualified medical interpreter.

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