Often, I hear complaints about good interpreters because they rigidly stick to their job description. This blog might get me in trouble with some of my colleagues, but I think it is worth a discussion.
Completing medical forms
There have been times that I have been told that a certain interpreter refused to help fill out a medical form. They stated that it isn’t in the job description. They would interpret what the forms say, but someone else must fill it out.
Basically, this is true. Certified healthcare interpreters must be proficient in consecutive, simultaneous and sight interpreting. Consecutive interpreting takes turns with the speaker while simultaneous is occurring while the other is speaking. Sight translation is the ability to read a form written in English in to the other language.
A professional interpreter might choose to avoid liability and refuse to fill out a form himself, and there is a foundation for that reasoning. However, I don’t have a problem filling out a form with the answers the patient gives me. I make sure he signs and initials everything and if there is a place that shows that I filled it out for him, I sign that part.
One suggestion though, if you are going to do this. Make sure you are a good speller and it is legible. Hey, maybe that’s another reason why some might refuse to do it as well!
Correcting the Physician
Professional interpreters are encouraged to request that the healthcare professional speak to the patient and look at them. I have heard complaints that the interpreter keeps reminding a doctor of this to the point where the doctor gets annoyed.
Interpreter ethics typically require the interpreter to speak in the first person as if he is the person he is interpreting for. The interpreter will ask the doctor and patient to look at and address each other directly. This is a way for respect to be shown. It would be rude to look at the interpreter and speak with him ignoring the patient.
I can’t tell you how many times I have explained this to the doctor only for him to forget and revert to bad habits. He will look at me and say, “Ask him how long he has been feeling that way.” Instead of reminding the doctor again, I simply look at the patient and ask him the question in the first person. Another tip that may be helpful is to look at the patient while the doctor speaks and look at the doctor while the patient speaks.
Ignoring the interpreter and speaking directly to the patient can be a difficult habit to develop for some healthcare professionals. My purpose as a healthcare interpreter is to serve as a conduit of information not to be an annoying stickler for the rules.
Dealing with the Pharmacy
I often get request from adjusters and case managers to accompany the patient to the pharmacy and even provide them with the workers’ comp. information needed to process the prescription. This is another added service I often perform. Of course, my clock continues so I am compensated for it.
Some interpreters feel that dealing with the pharmacy goes beyond interpreting and will refuse to do it. Perhaps the reason I choose to accept this additional assignment is that I have seen patients return home after surgery unable to obtain pain medication for a couple of days. They suffer in agony. I know this is easily avoidable with just a little assistance.
Hospital interpreters typically enter the room when the healthcare professional enters, and they exit when they exit. Video healthcare interpreters do the same. This is to limit contact with the patient. They do this to avoid becoming emotionally biased by the patient’s tragic circumstances.
However, it is very common in workers comp for the interpreter to also provide transport or non-emergency taxi service for the patient. This is another service that I provide as well. Although ethics require interpreters to be unbiased, there is no specific ethical guideline that says we cannot also transport a patient. The hospitals limit contact with the patient in that way because that is how they interpret the ethical guidelines (and it may also be hospital policy).
Workers’ comp. interpreters have a challenge in this area because they likely spend so much time with the patient. The risk of becoming unbiased is real. So, we must take many steps, including constant reminders and ethical considerations to stay professional.
These are the top four services that don’t fit a professional interpreters job description that I offer but don’t blame anyone for refusing to do them. I enjoyed writing this so much that I just might have enough to do a part two on this subject.