An argument for Certified professional interpreters (Confidentiality)

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, at times, doctors choose to use family members, friends, or medical staff to interpret at an appointment instead of using a certified interpreter. Previous blogs have demonstrated why this is so serious and risky, as well as potentially violating the law.

One of the core guidelines for professional healthcare interpreters is confidentiality. For this reason, they take certain measures in order to comply with that guideline. For example, it is standard practice for interpreters to destroy and dispose of their notes upon finishing the interpreting session.

Often, family members approach the interpreter and ask for personal medical information. Professional interpreters comply with HIPAA regulations.  They direct all questions to either the patient himself or another healthcare provider.

I personally have interpreted in appointments where drug addiction was uncovered; another patient admitted suffering from erectile dysfunction. Discussing these matters is extremely embarrassing for patients who alread knows that the interpreter was professional and discreet. The only reason they revealed information is because they knew it was confidential.

In such delicate matters, many patients would feel very uncomfortable speaking about these things in front of family or friends, especially young children. To make matters worse, most ad hoc interpreters are unfamiliar with the code of ethics. They often leave the session and gossip to others what they discovered. This serious lack of confidentiality can have a tragic effect on the relationship and doctor-patient communication. It can also lead to very expensive lawsuits.

Although typically I would not recommend untrained medical staff serving as interpreters, they usually respect confidentiality as medical professionals. For this reason, I would have no problem with utilizing bilingual staff members who complete at least a 40-hour medical interpreting course. I encourage bilingual professionals to enroll in such a course to familiarize themselves with the healthcare interpreters’ code of ethics and medical terminology in the foreign language. Greenville Tech has an excellent course the prepares candidates to become certified health care interpreters.

In fact, if they go through the effort of completing the course, they might as well proceed and sit for certification. Certified interpreters who are also staff members will be familiar with the distinct roles in which they serve. In their capacity as interpreters, they must follow that code of ethics and convey the message accurately and completely. They must also maintain impartiality. They should be aware of how the interpreter code of ethics differs from their typical job duties.

Our local hospital has an incredible interpreting staff. However, they also provide a training course for bilingual staff, including nurses so that they can be approved to communicate directly with patients. This training obviously would include extensive information on the code of ethics as well as medical terminology.

Confidentiality is a very serious issue; only by using a certified healthcare interpreter acquainted with the code of ethics or training your staff trained to interpret can you assure true confidentiality. Family members, especially children, and friends serving as ad hoc interpreters, therefore, should never be be used. 

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