“I don’t need a trained medical interpreter, just send a warm body!” – Part 3 of 3

“Send a Dinka interpreter right away. I don’t care if they’re trained, I just need a warm body!” Believe it or not, this was an actual request to our language agency by a hospital nurse administrator ten years ago. If you are a language agency owner or an interpreting services coordinator who has cringed at hearing this or a similar statement, I feel your pain!

For me as a Registered Nurse, the idea of utilizing any untrained individual – for any role – in a clinical encounter is unthinkable. Fortunately, there has been a paradigm shift in the U.S. and many providers now understand the need for using a professional interpreter. But they still might not, however, recognize that “professional” means the interpreter should have a minimum level of core training as well as continuing education. Here are a few points that you may use when educating consumers about this topic:

  • “BILINGUAL” IS NOT A QUALIFICATION – The ability to poke someone with a syringe does not make me a nurse. Rather, there is extensive theoretical knowledge, a specific skill set and validation required for me to practice as a professional. Similarly, the ability to speak two (or more) languages fluently does not make a medical interpreter. The National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare (NCIHC) provides a great explanation of the necessary qualifications: http://www.ncihc.org/faqs-for-healthcare-professionals.
  • TRAINING IMPROVES SAFETY –  There are general policies and procedures – such as HIPAA law, OSHA regulations and hospital emergency codes – that all healthcare personnel need to know in order to protect themselves and patients from infection and injury. Interpreters are no exception; they deserve to receive this information! In addition, they need specific training that will help them to adequately facilitate communication, including medical terminology, professional ethics and standards of practice, and an understanding of the various clinical settings in which they will be assigned.
  • PATIENTS DESERVE A TRAINED, PROFESSIONAL INTERPRETER –  Patients deserve confidential and clear communication that does not increase their cost of care. Most state public health codes require that a provider communicate in a way that the patient can understand. And research has shown that failure to provide a qualified interpreter increases costs (whether paid by the patient, insurance, or the providing organization) because providers order more clinical tests in order to supplement the lack of a clear subjective history with objective data. Also, this can’t be said enough: using family members, friends and lay interpreters creates a punishable breach of patient confidentiality.
  • PROVIDERS DESERVE A TRAINED, PROFESSIONAL INTERPRETER, TOO – Providers deserve to protect their licensure and improve their measured clinical outcomes by having a trained interpreter! There are plenty of anecdotes about family members interpreting incorrectly or incompletely. A trained interpreter is more likely to follow a professional code of ethics, utilize accepted problem-solving techniques to facilitate communication, and have other skills necessary to help providers obtain a complete history and provide adequate patient education.

Share your thoughts about this topic in the Comments section of this post.

Read more posts in this series:

About VoicesACADEMY.com:

VoicesACADEMY is a subscription-based website for interpreters, translators and healthcare providers. We’re working hard to provide affordable, high quality training and professional support through on-demand videos and social networking. Join us on Twitter (@VoicesAcademy) and Facebook (VoicesAcademy).

About the author:

Michelle A. Scott is a bilingual Registered Nurse and Medical Sociologist who founded Voices For Health, Inc. in 1997. She advocates for raising the standards of language accommodation in healthcare through conference lectures, professional leadership and development of video content for VoicesACADEMY.com. 

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4 thoughts on ““I don’t need a trained medical interpreter, just send a warm body!” – Part 3 of 3

  1. this is fantastic! thanks so much for creating this blog. the topic is timely and essential as we are witnessing the historical change as medical interpreting moves from what has often been the sharing of an often an untested linguistic skill to a professional health care discipline. “Discipline” requires education and training, mentoring and supervised practice.
    One favor: would you move the column on the left requesting likes and showing tweets- it covers some of your excellent blog. thanks

    • Thanks for your feedback about medical interpreting as a professional discipline, Jessica! Regarding the social networking bar, we are working to move that.

  2. I understand that patient needs confidentiality and as a medical interpreter, we can’t breach the law of HIPAA. However, living in a small area with the possibilities to bump into your patient quite often in different occasions make it so hard not to break the confidentiality. That is such a pain!

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