Three Aspects of Medical Interpreters’ Scope of Practice You May Not Know

The interpreting profession exists to bridge the language barrier between two or more parties who do not speak the same language.  Here are some aspects of medical interpreters’ scope of practice of which you may be unaware. 

1. All utterances are reformulated Most people know that medical interpreters are conduits of information. It is often said that they must repeat everything being said. Parrots repeat; interpreters convey. They reformulate the message accurately, but command of certain words and grammar can change from one language to another. Additionally, interpreters must be transparent; therefore, they convey all statements. Also, some patients have limited comprehension of English. For this reason, don’t say anything in front of him that you don’t want him to hear. The same applies to the patient. If he makes an undesirable comment to the interpreter about a healthcare professional, the interpreter will render it out loud.  
2. Clarify misunderstandings as a cultural liaison Although interpreters primarily serve as conduits for communication, they also serve to clarify misunderstandings. When they function in this capacity, they interject a brief explanation, often with the phrase, “the interpreter would like to state…”  Since the interpreter speaks in the first person representing the patient, he interjects in the third person to avoid confusion as to who is speaking.  It is also common for breakdowns in exchange due to cultural beliefs. In cases like this, the interpreter will function as a cultural liaison and explain cultural beliefs about illness or care. For example, in the US, doctors often explain the options and allow the patient to decide on treatment. In other countries, patients are accustomed to doctors stating what needs to be done. I have seen the eternal circle when doctors explain the options, and the patient inevitably replies, “whatever you think!”  
3. Patient Advocate The interpreter may even serve as a patient advocate to explain certain obstacles such as dietary modifications, filling prescriptions or other follow-up issues. Often, a patient receives a prescription but is unable to communicate with the pharmacy. The pharmacist might request certain information, but the patient doesn’t understand and cannot comply. The frustration could lead to the patient never taking the medication. Walgreens can print prescription labels in 14 languages. CVS prints in Spanish.  Encouraging your limited English proficient patients to take their prescriptions to pharmacies that print their language builds trust and encourages patient compliance. 

Language access in healthcare is unique.  It is the one area where all parties want the same goal:  improved outcome for patients. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *