Do not use a family member as an interpreter

In a pinch, it can be very tempting to grab the nearest family member to help interpret for a patient. You can tell yourself "it is ok to do it this once" or "the patient's child speaks English" but in reality, this is a practice that should be avoided at all costs. Just because someone is bilingual does not mean he or she is qualified to be an interpreter.

Benefits of using a trained medical interpreter

Medical interpreters uphold a national code of conduct instituted by the International Medical Interpreters Association. Utilizing a professional interpreter will minimize the number of errors in communication as well as help create a connection between the patient and the healthcare system. Language is not based purely on words; it includes cultural navigation and an understanding of customs.

Risks associated with a nonprofessional interpreter

Asking a friend, child or another member of the patient's family to can lead to more than a series of miscommunications. Nonprofessional medical interpreters are unfamiliar with medical terminology and may give unsolicited advice to the patient. There is a host of issues that clinicians can face when using inadequate forms of communication.

  • Patient dissatisfaction
  • Medical errors
  • Unnecessary testing
  • Malpractice

Make your time count

Working with an interpreter can be difficult at times. Following these guidelines will help make the visit more beneficial for you and your patient. Use first person statements or "I" statements; for example, do not say "tell her." You want to act as though you are speaking directly to the patient even though it is the interpreter who is voicing your patient's answers. Seat the interpreter next to or if necessary slightly behind the patient. Take advantage of using a professional interpreter. As a medical provider, correctly utilizing the expertise of an interpreter is one of the best tools to strengthen the bond between patient and provider.

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