Wild West for Workers’ Compensation Interpreters


Workers’ compensation interpreters hired by insurance companies are typically subcontracted through a language agency. Language agencies then subcontract out to individual entrepreneurs who are responsible for their own continuing education and training. This unregulated process often results in a long list of common problems.


I have given much thought to the occasional conflicts that occur between the hospital interpreters and workers comp interpreters that arrive with the patient. 


The hospital puts into place certain processes to assure a level of quality:


  1. Evaluate the qualifications of interpreters before hiring them. 
  2. Effort is made for interpreters to be certified. 
  3. Continuing education. 
  4. Procedures in place to assure quality unbiased service. 


Because of these efforts, hospitals can assure a minimum standard of quality. 




Reasons why common problems exist among many workers comp interpreters:


  • There is no regulation requiring certified healthcare interpreters
  • No standard of quality is followed for healthcare interpreters in workers’ comp
  • Untrained bilingual people work as interpreters
  • In order to compete in the marketplace, language agencies often seek out the cheapest interpreter, not the most qualified
  • Agencies don’t typically require proof of credentials
  • No system in place to assure continuing education by agencies
  • No system in place to assure workers’ comp interpreters are familiar with ethics


As a result of the lack of regulation in the interpreting profession, the following problems commonly exist:


  • “Interpreters” unfamiliar with the medical and healthcare interpreter’s code of ethics
  • “Interpreters” fighting with doctors and staff
  • Inappropriate coaching patients legally and medically
  • Doing what they see fit instead of respecting the process
  • Ill-equipped to handle problems when they arise
  • Unfamiliar with medical terminology 
  • Paraphrasing, summarize, omitting, and adding information
  • Unfamiliar with false cognates (SOAP – subject of another post)



In the world of Workers Compensation, it really is the Wild West! 


A simple solution, and one to which we ascribe, to is to hire certified medical or healthcare interpreters with proven knowledge of medical vocabulary and ethics. By passing the examination, they have demonstrated that they can provide the minimum professional standard of quality. When certified interpreters are unavailable, we personally meet and evaluate the qualifications of each interpreter with whom we plan to work. Before contracting with them, we discuss ethics as well. We regularly provide continuing education and encourage our interpreters to be active in professional associations.


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