Why are problems with workers’ comp interpreters so prevalent?

May 23, 2011 JAlfonso 1 comment

Why are Workers’ Comp Interpreters Hated?

Part II

Why are problems with workers’ comp interpreters so prevalent?

As already mentioned, there are many common problems in the industry with workers’ comp interpreters. They have been observed and commented on by hospital staff, doctors, nurses, and therapists.

The International Medical Interpreters Association Code of Ethics (IMIA) points out the need for interpreters to be unbiased and professional, interpreting faithfully everything being said.

The following are commonly heard complaints:

  • Interpreters are not dressed professionally and carry no ID to prove who they are;
  • They are on the phone or iPad and not attentive to the client;
  • They summarize instead of repeating everything;
  • They fraternize with the client, often seen talking loud and laughing, appearing more like family than that of a professional; and
  • They have been seen arguing on behalf of the client, taking the role of advocate.

Obviously, these are serious issues that compromise the ability of the interpreter to do his job correctly. So the logical question is, why are these problems so prevalent?

Part of the answer might be found in the way the system is set up. There are a small number of national language agencies in the United States. Most large insurance companies utilize these national language agencies.

It would take massive time and resources for the insurance companies to find an interpreter in every little city, town and region. It seems to make much more sense for them to call one agency and let it provide the interpreter wherever needed. The agency is also fully insured in case of a costly mistake.

Competition is fierce among these agencies. When given an assignment, they must ensure that they can quickly provide coverage or the competition might just snatch it away. They must also have competitive pricing.

While under pressure to find coverage quickly at the right price, oftentimes standards degrade. It might not be easy to find a qualified interpreter in Ridgeland, SC, for example. Often they might settle for a bilingual person looking for work in the area. The contract usually reviews ethical conduct, and it is understood that before signing, it should be read. However, there isn’t much of an interview process to verify qualifications, no training, and no continuing education. Often, these companies will remove someone after complaints, when the damage has been done. Mind you, this does not need to beis not always the case as there are some very well-qualified medical interpreters in workers’ comp.

The complaints listed in paragraph 3 above come from medical professionals.  It is no surprise considering that often unqualified bilingual individuals are used at sweatshop rates.  Being bilingual does not qualify one to be a medical interpreter. Future blogs will detail this. Obviously something should be done. At this moment, I am sharing a reason why, not assigning blame to anyone. The problem is systemic, and I have no solution. I do, however, have control over what my company does.

The next blog will discuss what Alfonso Interpreting does to resolve these problems.

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