Aside from medical translations, healthcare facilities in the United States that are receiving federal funding are mandated to provide medical interpreting services to patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) and those who are hard of hearing and the deaf.
Medical interpreters ensure that the patients and their healthcare providers are able to understand one another perfectly. With the increasing number of LEP patients in the U.S., the demand for medical interpreting services has grown quickly, which means that people who are interested in the profession are assured of a good career.
What is Medical Interpreting?
Medical interpreting is part of the many language interpreting services offered by a language services company. Medical interpreting is specialized work, where the interpreter uses his or her skills in English and another language to ensure the proper communication between medical practitioners and patients who are unable to speak English well. The job is very important for the comfort and safety of patients during medical care.
What Do Medical Interpreters Do?
The primary task of a medical interpreter is to bridge the communication gap between patients and healthcare providers to make sure that the patients are given accurate diagnoses and prescribed the right treatment and medication.
You might be thinking that the role of medical interpreting while an LEP patient is visiting a doctor is simple. That is in fact very far from the truth. The interpreter needs to be very fluent in two languages, primarily. He or she must know the right medical terminology because each field of medical practice has its own specific medical terms. Therefore, the interpreter must be a subject matter expert as well.
It is undeniable that being an interpreter for health care is very challenging. However, they also state that they value the high emotional rewards they get from their job as they witness how their work in providing interpreting services can protect the health and well-being of many patients and in most cases, save their lives.
The type of language access of LEP patients through medical interpreting depends on the location and size of the healthcare facility. In rural areas where the financial resources are limited or in cases when a particular language is needed, for example, indigenous languages, the best option is over-the-phone interpreting. For larger facilities that serve more LEP patients daily, the facilities offer video remote interpreting and/or on-site interpreting. In some large hospitals, all three types of medical interpreting services are available.
With the continuing growth of the foreign-born population in the United States, interpreters are becoming highly valuable members of the healthcare providers’ team. The responsibilities of the interpreter for the healthcare industry have evolved immensely and they continue to change to fit the needs of the LEP community.
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Importance of Medical Interpreting
The value of proper language access in healthcare facilities can be assessed in the increasing number of LEP patients seeking and receiving proper medical services. It can be partly attributed to the availability of medical interpreting services today.
Interpreting in the healthcare setting in not only about facilitating communication between patient and healthcare provider. He or she also provides assistance during patient admission, examination, consultation, medical procedures and other interactions between the medical provider and the patient.
The interpreter enables the direct communication between the patient and healthcare staff by accurately and thoroughly interpreting their verbal exchange in the language that the listener (doctor, nurse or patient) understands. Aside from interpreting in the background, the interpreter may come into the conversation tactfully to respond to the obvious discomfort of the patient, correct misunderstandings and ensure that the information is clear. The interpreter is usually an active proponent for the healthcare provider as well as the patient.
There are several subtasks that the interpreter must perform before, during and after the assigned task.
1. Setting up the stage
Many healthcare facilities will not be very familiar with the language access program because it might be their first time to have medical interpreters in their facility. It is vital for the interpreter to set clear expectations about their role in the provider-patient-interpreter encounter. He or she should specifically stress the elements of confidentiality, completeness and accuracy. The interpreter should also check other concerns, such as where each party should sit, address the discomfort of the provider or the patient due to the presence of the interpreter and assess the patient’s linguistic style. Moreover, the interpreter should try to establish a direct relationship between the two parties.
The medical interpreter’s main task is to transmit the information completely and accurately. The interpreter is therefore committed to fully understand the message in the source language and keep all the essential information when translating into the language of the listener. It is important for the interpreter to ensure that the pertinent information is clarified before making the conversion.
3. Managing the communication flow
The interpreter has to manage the flow of communication for the sake of completeness and accuracy to ensure that vital information is not miscommunicated or lost. At times the interpreter must attend to the interpersonal dynamics of the patient and the provider during their interaction. The interpreter is not responsible for the actions of the two parties, but when conflict or tension arises, he or she should assist in establishing the right communication process so the parties can settle down.
4. Managing the three-way relationship
Since the medical interpreter acts as the facilitator between the provider and the patient, there is always the tendency to form an alliance with the third party. In such cases, the doctor and the patient may direct their remarks directly to the interpreter. Therefore, the interpreter must encourage the two parties to directly address each other. It is a natural tendency since the provider often thinks of the interpreter as their extension instead of a partner who has their own set of obligations and responsibilities. The patient on the other hand will naturally gravitate towards the interpreter because the person can understand their language and their culture. Both parties should understand that the medical interpreter is there to manage the communication process. Whatever decisions the provider and the patient arrive at depends on their own expertise.
5. Assisting in closure of clinical encounter
After the medical check-up, the interpreter should encourage the healthcare provider, when needed, to give the patient follow-up instructions that the patient could clearly understand and likely to do. The interpreter should likewise ensure that the patient is connected to the required services and promote the patient’s self-sufficiency.
Many of the healthcare providers in the United States are English speakers. They may be serving communities with mixed populations, but it is impossible to expect them to know the cultural background of each patient they see.
The role of interpreters is not only about facilitating communication between the provider and LEP patients. It is important to establish that the messages conveyed by person of a different nationality are culturally related to their beliefs, assumptions and values. Aside from knowing the words that the patient used, the interpreter should understand the underlying concepts that give meaning to the words in the way they are delivered.
A medical interpreter must comprehend the ways in which a patient’s culture affects his or her presentation, the course and the results of the illness along with the patient’s perception of treatment and wellness.
It is easier when the patient and the provider are on the same page since the interpreter only has to take care of the linguistic requirements during the consultation. However, the situation becomes more difficult if the provider and the patient have different assumptions. In this case, the interpreter not only has to concentrate on the language difference but also on the hidden assumptions or propositions that are left unsaid. In such situations, the interpreter must be involved deeper to prevent misunderstandings. The interpreter has to help uncover the hidden assumptions to promote better understanding between the two parties.
Another cultural linguistic difficulty is with untranslatable words. Many medical terms do not have direct translation in another language. In such cases, the translator and the healthcare provider must work together to find better ways to explain the concept.
Promoting Equal Access to Healthcare Services
Interpreters help healthcare providers understand patients’ cultural backgrounds and how these cultural perceptions influence the decision of LEPs to seek medical assistance. They also help ensure that previously underserved patients are able to access healthcare services despite their immigration status, background and language. It is also within their duty to educate the different healthcare team members on the requirements, duties, ethics and protocol and the standards of practice when interpreting for healthcare.
Ensuring Progress of the Medical Industry
Medical interpreting along with medical translation is very critical to help boost the medical industry. These services help ensure that every person despite the difference in the languages they speak, can have equal access to healthcare. The implementation of the language access programs in healthcare facilities and organizations receiving federal funding encourages LEP patients to seek medical attention. It helps increase the number of people visiting hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities and improves their mortality rate. Moreover, it helps boost their confidence and trust in healthcare providers.
The responsibilities of medical interpreters are many, thus the needs for their knowledge and skills are very high. The job requires dedication and passion because they can be called at any time of the day. They often work under pressure but must always remain productive and functional. They have to ensure that the patient and provider are comfortable.
Medical interpreters are highly trained individuals who work to eliminate or limit misdiagnoses and help prevent putting the provider or the patient at a disadvantage.
Improve Your Language Access Program – Contact Us
Day Translations, Inc. is a HIPAA-certified medical interpreting services provider for healthcare organizations and facilities across the United States. Our professional, highly trained and native speaking interpreters are experienced in different types of interpreting services for the healthcare industry. We offer video remote interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting and on-site interpreting services. We handle more than 100 languages, including minority and indigenous languages. Give us a call as 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us and let us discuss your requirements. We are available 24/7, every day of the year.