Why are workers’ comp interpreters hated?

I realize that hate is a strong word. Most people, in fact, appreciate the badly-needed interpreting services they provide. There are, however, some very clear problems in the area of workers’ comp medical interpretation.

Recently I spoke with someone in charge of language services at a nearby hospital and was immediately impressed by the passion she had for quality, professional medical interpretation. She was quick to explain how the hospital had embraced the International Medical Interpreters Association Code of Ethics (IMIA).

She specifically focused on the need for the interpreter to be unbiased without developing emotional involvement.  Experience has demonstrated how easy it is for an interpreter to encounter an emotional attachment, especially in an intense, triadic setting. For this reason, some hospitals have a policy of limited contact. The interpreter will enter the room with a health care professional to interpret. If the health care professional leaves the room, the interpreter will wait outside the room.

In workers’ comp, often an interpreter is assigned to a patient from the beginning of his or her care until its conclusion.  An advantage is that it allows the patient and interpreter to develop familiarity.  There is time to notice differences in vocabulary. The patient becomes at ease with his interpreter. The patient develops trust that his assigned interpreter will faithfully discharge those duties.

Nevertheless, this can be a dangerous two-edge sword.  From the vantage point of that particular hospital professional, “how in the world could a workers’ comp interpreter stay unbiased?”  In her mind, that level of long-term personal interaction would make it impossible to maintain impartiality.

She had also observed people who claim to be workers’ comp interpreters dressed in jeans and appeared more like family members. These interpreters have no form of identification.  Unqualified interpreters fraternize with the patient in a very close and personal manner. Workers’ comp interpreters argue with hospital staff.  The combined lack of professionalism does not instill confidence that the interpreter can even perform his assigned duties.

Another very real fear is that, because of the perceived deep involvement, some workers’ comp interpreters seem to cross their boundaries and give medical advice.

These common industry issues are undeniable. I have heard similar comments from doctors, nurses and often therapists. The question begs, why? Why are there so many routine problems with workers’ comp interpreters?  This will be the next subject considered under why workers’ comp interpreters are hated.

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