6 Considerations when Choosing a Medical Interpreter

(1)The Setting: The setting is important in choosing the interpreter. Some interpreters are perfectly comfortable working at a doctor’s office and completely uncomfortable with accompanying a home health nurse in a private home.

Ethically, professional interpreters should be honest in revealing if they don’t qualify for a specific assignment. For example, a highly qualified healthcare interpreter under most settings, might not qualify for interpreting in a mental health setting. Perhaps they might not be familiar with the terminology or mental health issues might hit too close to home.

Before hiring an interpreter, be sure that you can find a qualified professional for that assignment.

(2) Qualifications:  What makes a qualified interpreter? Persons dedicated to the profession by practicing the craft of interpreting with beauty and flow in their rendering. Certified interpreters are always preferred because only certified interpreters have demonstrated the minimum standard of proficiency. Unfortunately, there are languages without certification exams. For those cases, a written test is administered to qualify their understanding of English and the ethical guidelines. Additionally, an oral proficiency interview (OPI) should be conducted to assess language skills.  The candidate should score on the OPI at either level 10 or advanced mid to superior.  That would satisfy all parties that the person does indeed understand English and the foreign language with almost equal weight.  One of the ethical codes is to consistently pursue continuing education and improvement of their craft.

(3) Customer Experience: Now we are not just talking about hiring a good interpreter. We are talking about business and customer service. You need interpreters at the location and time of the appointment. You need to communicate when changes occur, and you need that same information communicated to you as soon as possible. Sometimes you call because you need a question answered as soon as possible. Billing should be submitted in the way that works best for your organization.

In other words, you need to work with a company that is dedicated to excellence and creating a superior customer experience.

(4) Accuracy: Highly skilled interpreters dedicated to the craft of interpreting are faithful to what the speaker.  They do not filter, summarize, edit or give personal opinions.  Never accept anything less because in a medical setting, accuracy can mean the difference between life and death.

(5) Unbiased: Certified and professional medical and healthcare interpreters should always stay unbiased. This is not an easy task for emotional human beings in a medical setting who naturally feel compassion for folks in trauma. Highly professional interpreters who study ethics are more likely to remain unbiased.

(6) Stress: Many medical situations can be stressful. Anything can happen from a patient’s emotional reaction to bad news, to an argument erupting between a desperate patient and a healthcare professional, to a medical emergency involving a bleeding person. You need assurance that the interpreters can stay cool, calm, and collected in dealing with stressful situations that can occur in interpreting.

Simply looking at these six considerations before hiring a medical interpreter help you to see why hiring a certified interpreter makes a big difference.

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