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The Vital Role of Interpretation Services in Healthcare

medical interpretation service

Last updated on October 13th, 2020 at 03:39 pm

interpretation services in healthcare

What Is Medical Interpretation?

Medical interpretation converts spoken words from one language to another in a healthcare context. Medical care is a human right. When the world at large has been thrust into the situation of dealing with a pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we make sure that everyone has access to language services in a medical setting, from document translation to remote phone interpretation.
Interpretation services for healthcare are used by hospitals, insurance carriers, clinics, dental offices, law firms, and case management companies.

There are many reasons to have a medical interpreter to help with the language barrier between people of different languages:

  • Medical appointments
  • Consultations and surgeries
  • Medical tourism
  • Therapy sessions
  • Independent medical evaluations

How are Interpretation Services in Healthcare Used?

Medical interpretation is vitally important on a daily basis, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some situations in which prompt, remote access to medical interpretation is necessary.

  • A Hispanic student is studying at a university in Canada, and they come down with a bad sinus headache that is hindering their studies. They can use Spanish medical interpretation by phone to talk with staff at the campus clinic, who speak English and Canadian French, to get medical aid.
  • A Chinese tourist is bitten by a snake while passing through a rural area in the United States where the locals speak mostly Spanish and English. By going to the local hospital and getting a professional medical interpreter on a video call, they are able to describe the animal and get the right antivenom swiftly, avoiding further damage to the limb.
  • A major medical research facility has new information on the impact of the pandemic in the area, and they are notifying the surrounding communities. With professional medical interpreting services, the clinic serving the nearby Thai community will get the news right away, even if no one at the research facility knows a word of Thai.

Types of Medical Interpretation

With any type of interpretation service rendered on-site or remotely, the two basic types are simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpretation has the interpreter speaking just a beat behind the first speaker. This is often done with a headset for clarity in settings like conferences. Consecutive interpretation has the first speaker saying a few sentences before the interpreter gives the converted version. Most medical interpretation is consecutive.

  • Onsite medical interpretation is a perfect solution for a public address, a lecture, or when there are multiple conversations to be had. Some language groups use hand motions, facial expressions, and body language more than others.
  • Remote medical interpretation by phone is perfect for shorter conversations, small groups, and long-distance conversations.
  • Remote medical interpretation by video call combines the visual aspect of onsite interpretation with the ease of access that phone interpretation offers.

Why Are Medical Interpreters Important?

Why do you need professional medical interpreters specifically? Wouldn’t an interpreter fluent in the source and target language work just as well? No, because there is a third language at play here. Medical language across languages and cultures is so complex and nuanced that you need a medical expert. Our medical interpreters have solid healthcare experience and fluency in the specific kind of medical language needed, from psychiatry to oncology to pathology.

Medical Interpretation for the Patient’s Benefit

The presence of a medical interpreter is incredibly reassuring to the patient. They know right away that they are being heard, understood, and are getting accurate information. Medical interpreters also ease the burden on family. Many times, family members with some skill in the language spoken by medical staff have to act as interpreters, but that places undue responsibility on them, especially if they are not fluent in medical terminology. Family, spouses, and friends often take on caregiver responsibilities after the patient is released, and medical interpreters help them.

On a personal note, I had to be an interpreter for a very crucial open-heart surgery that my brother was having. The surgeon called me from the operating room, and I had to convey the message to his wife and my mother for the wife to make a decision. I remembered the stress of that call for me. I had the command of the languages and the medical language was not too specific or complex, but I should have not done it, I was lucky it was an easy call. I do not how I was going to react if the choice was difficult and that could have affected what I said to my mother and sister-in-law. A medical interpreter has no emotional connection to any person involved and can interpret impartially.

Medical Interpretation for Medical Staff

Professional medical interpreters ensure that diagnoses are correct, that care charts are accurate, that care plans are communicated and followed properly, and that discharge and aftercare instructions are clearly understandable by patients and staff. If a French recording artist goes on tour in Brazil and falls ill, professional medical document translation allows the Brazilian hospital staff to get their medical records. Professional medical interpretation allows the physician treating them in Brazil to call the artist’s regular physician in France to confirm some details and put together a treatment plan.

I have a friend that had appendicitis on a cruise and had to be flown to the Dominican Republic. He did not understand anything that was said to him before and after the surgery. Luckily, he survived, but I am sure it was a scary experience. Imagine people poking you with needles, talking to you with masks, wheeling you to places unknown while lying on a bed, having no idea what is happening and feeling the helplessness of not being able to communicate.

Medical Interpretation for Doctor-Patient Interaction

As we mentioned, medical terminology is quite different from the words we use in our everyday speech. Combine that with the fact that different language groups are often attached to different cultures that follow different practices and may have terminology that does not exist in the other language group. A medical interpreter must be able to traverse this difficult terrain in a field that leaves no margin for error and also, must be impartial in the exchange.

Medical Interpretation for Compliance

Healthcare providers in the United States have a duty under federal law to provide language assistance to patients. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010 mandates that healthcare organizations receiving federal funding must provide language assistance at no cost to the patient in a timely fashion. HIPAA compliance and informed consent must be followed as well so that the patient’s rights are respected. The hospital and medical staff also get an extra layer of protection against malpractice by making sure that all communication is clear and understood.

Medical Interpretation for Education

Professional medical interpreters make it possible for students to learn from multilingual educators and have conversations with other students. With thousands of schools worldwide transitioning to remote classrooms, remote interpretation services make both geography and language barriers a non-issue. Medical schools can take on multilingual faculty, guest speakers, and students more easily when they have a solid relationship with an interpretation services company. More multilingual people in healthcare gives us a more diverse, integrative, equal-opportunity healthcare system.

Your Medical Interpretation Needs

When someone’s safety is on the line, prompt, professional attention is a must. Call us today to talk about medical interpretation services needs for your organization or for personal use, and get access to help from a medical interpreter professional who speaks your language, plus is experienced and prepared to handle medical terminology and stress if it is necessary.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela. Jackie has a BS in computer engineering; As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.