Medical Interpreting Options – Pros and Cons

As technology continues to advance, so have interpreting options.  When it comes to medical interpreting, access to an interpreter can mean the difference between life and death. Technology has created to possibility of access to interpreters that were once never available. However, (1) technology isn’t there yet and can be lacking, and (2) the infrastructure for medical facilities may not have the required specifications to support seamless technology function.

In-person healthcare interpreters

Pros: There is no technology as good as being present where a person can clearly see and hear everything in real time. I have been able to comprehend a mumbling patient in their presence that video interpreters completely missed.


  1. For certain languages, it can be impossible to find a locally qualified interpreter. A doctor might not even be able to settle for an unqualified bilingual person, which is highly discouraged.
  2. Although there are a couple of national certifications for medical or healthcare interpreters, many locations don’t require certified interpreters. Without using certified interpreters, there is no guarantee of quality.

Telephonic interpreters

Pros: Almost anyone can access a phone anywhere, any time, and a qualified interpreter in almost any language.


  1. Bad connections can often prevent the interpreter from listening to the complete message.
  2. No Visibility. An in-person interpreter not only has the advantage of the clearest audio, but also uses visual cues for context of the spoken word. Telephonic interpreters are limited to only what they hear.

Video remote interpreters

Pros:  Access to qualified interpreters in almost any language and the benefit to take in visual cues.


  1. You really need specific bandwidth to support wired and wireless connections. Bad connections (message) make for bad interpreting (messenger); don’t shoot the messenger.
  2. Although video remote interpreting helps with visual cues, it isn’t perfect or as good as actually being in the presence of someone.

Conclusion: If a certified or professional interpreter is available for in-person interpreting, that is the best way to go. If there are no qualified interpreters locally or time is of the essence due to an emergency, video remote is better than telephonic but perhaps not readily available.

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