Hospital and Workers Comp Interpreters – Why have 2?


It is common for workers’ compensation (WC) interpreters to be assigned to accompany a patient to all his medical visits. When they arrive at the doctor’s office, they discover that the doctor is affiliated with a hospital; therefore, a hospital interpreter is also provided.


By policy, the hospital must have its interpreter present to assure quality and avoid liability.  At the same time, WC has heard patient complaints that he doesn’t understand the hospital interpreters. For this reason, it sends its interpreter to assure that the patient understands everything, can make informed decisions, and itself avoid liability.


The Hospital:

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. Ensure quality, unbiased service. 


Because of these efforts, most hospitals can assure a standard of quality. There is no way for the hospital to make that guarantee for anyone outside its system claiming to be an interpreter.


At this time, there is no legal requirement to hire certified medical or healthcare interpreters.  Without regulation, the quality of interpreters varies greatly. Many well-meaning unprofessional bilingual persons work as interpreters without even rudimentary training in medical terminology or an understanding of professional interpreting ethics.


A single misspoken or misunderstood word could be fatal and result in great liability for the hospital. For this reason, it must have one of its trained qualified interpreters present even if another interpreter accompanies the patient.


Workers’ Compensation:

Just as the hospital is assuring the best interest of the patient by making sure their interpreter is present, often WC does the same.  Patients often complain that:

  • They don’t understand all the hospital interpreters and just like a box of chocolates, they never know what they’ll get.
  • The hospital and doctor offices often use audio or video interpreters who:
  • Don’t always hear everything.
  • Don’t always repeat everything.
  • It is common to have poor audio/video quality.
  • Patient and/or provider do not hear the interpreter clearly.
  • Video interpreter can’t always see what the patient is showing the medical professional.
  • Patients under medication often mumble and can’t be understood.
  • The process is much slower and frustrating.
  • The patient doesn’t trust the hospital interpreter and understands better the one assigned by WC.


For these and many more reasons, WC often sends its own interpreter to assure that the patient is at ease and understands everything. This way, the patient is able to make informed decisions. Also, it is a way to prevent liability by avoiding patient dissatisfaction and mistrust, which often lead them to seek legal representation.


So there you have it. Why must there be two interpreters? Both sides are trying to provide the best service for the patient and avoid a lawsuit.

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