LanguageLine Blog

Making the Case for Qualified Medical Interpreters

Written by Ana Catalina Gonzalez Siax | February 21, 2017

The medical field is like no other thanks to its sensitive combination of high stakes, unpredictability, emotional situations, cultural concerns, legal liability, and the need to provide an exceptional experience.

Healthcare providers have a lot to balance when communicating with and treating patients.

Hiring an interpreter is a good start when working with patients who have limited English proficiency. But qualified medical interpreters familiar with complex medical terminology are in an even better position to provide the best possible service to healthcare professionals and their patients.

Here are just a few ways qualified medical interpreters add value.

A Greater Understanding of Medical Terminology

Even in one’s native tongue, medical language is often opaque to the uninitiated. As is the case with doctors and nurses, medical interpreters have put in time to become familiar with medical terminology about conditions, symptoms, complications, and medications.

Familiarity With Medical Procedures

An interpreter with a general knowledge of medical procedures is able to not only explain them thoroughly to patients, but can also help healthcare staff in ways as simple as knowing where to stand so they won’t interfere.

Interpreting Skills and Protocols

Professional interpreters are in high demand and often work in a variety of settings, such as court rooms, social-services offices, or business conference rooms. Medical interpretation has its own standards and code of ethics that differ from the way things are done in other settings.

Culture-Specific Medical Practices

A patient’s culture impacts the expectations for care and readiness to follow instructions. It also has an effect on interactions with doctors, decision-making among family members, and more.

An interpreter who understands these cultural dynamics in addition to the language can help healthcare professionals bridge the divide. For instance, patients in some cultures may be unaccustomed to standard procedures, such as having blood drawn or receiving an X-ray.

Greater Confidence In Their Abilities

An interpreter who has taken the time to receive additional training and testing in medical terminology will likely have greater confidence in their abilities and will be more at ease, which will in turn put patients at ease. This can make the interpreter more efficient and contribute to a better experience.

What Does Medical Interpreter Training Involve?

As we’ve noted before, hospitals have spent more than $15.8 billion in litigation and have lost $1.2 billion due to poor communication with LEP patients. Utilizing a qualified medical interpreter reduces the risk of misunderstanding and misdiagnosis, ensures regulatory compliance, and improves the patient experience.

If you want to ensure you’re utilizing a qualified interpreter, look specifically for someone who has taken the extra step to receive training in medical terminology.

Learn more about how LanguageLine’s interpreter training and testing programs can help your organization avoid costly mistakes.

Ana Catalina (Cata) Gonzalez Siax, C.M.I., is LanguageLine Academy's Testing and Training Manager. She has been working in the interpretation industry since 2006. While working as a medical interpreter, she also developed the training program for non-experienced interpreters at Pacific Interpreters. She has been a Certified Medical Interpreter since 2012, and also has ample experience evaluating interpreting skills and language proficiency, as well as training raters for LanguageLine Academy. Cata holds licensure in Psychology from Universidad de Iberoamerica in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Cata will be presenting at the California Healthcare Interpreting Association Annual Conference to be held March 17-18 in San Jose, California.