Top Tips for Healthcare Professionals and Interpreters Working Together- Part 1

1. Make sure the interpreter has sufficient information about the proposed conversation prior to the appointment so that they can research terminology. It is best that this is done when booking an interpreter. Remember, medical professionals had to learn medical specific terminology to do their jobs; an interpreter will also need learn medical jargon to be able to do their job efficiently. Furthermore, they have to know the terminology in two languages!

2. Allow enough time for the session for all involved (medical professional, patient and interpreter). Working with an interpreter will most likely double the amount of time you’ll spend with a patient. Allow time for a brief discussion with the interpreter before and after the office visit.

3. If you aren’t ready for your patient to hear it, don’t say it in front of him/her. An interpreter must not add, omit or change anything being said by anyone who is present.

4. Allow for interpreter to clarify linguistic or cultural issues. Due to linguistic variations from region to region, no interpreter will know every word in the patient’s target language. They may also need to clarify a procedure or medical term with the medical professional. If an interpreter is aware of cultural practices that may impact the medical interaction, he/she will transparently share those with the medical professional.

5. If possible it is advisable to hold a short conversation with the interpreter before you meet the patient to make certain they understand you. There are many different accents and speech styles, and everybody thinks that they speak clearly, but unfortunately this is not the case.

6. In addition, a preconference could also help bridge cultural gaps. For example, a doctor was using a Hindi medical interpreter who was on duty for a basic physical exam of a 70-year-old Indian woman. The doctor was taking the woman’s history, asking her questions about the number of sexual partners she’d had. If the doctor would have had a minute to discuss it with the interpreter before walking into the room, the interpreter could have told the doctor that females of this culture in this age group will be very hesitant to answer such questions. If the doctor were receptive to the interpreter’s insights, the interpreter could have suggested ways in which to obtain the information in a culturally sensitive manner.

7. Make sure you look at and address your patient directly (use “I” and “you”). Your interpreter will maintain these forms of address and will only use the third person to clarify any potential issues.

8. Try to avoid jargon and technical terms where possible. Instead of telling a patient you will order an MRI to identify probable causes of TBI, tell the patient you will order a special imaging test that will help you identify the possible causes of his or her brain problem.

9. If you speak to the patient using a high register (high level of literacy/textbook medical terminology) the interpreter will use the equivalent words in the target language in that same high register. He/she will not automatically lower the register for the patient, as he/she is not a medical professional and will not change the message you give. When you lower the register so will the interpreter.

10. Make sure the interpreter can see everyone’s face (where practicable) and that he or she can hear properly. Excessive background noises or distractions can make interpreting especially difficult.

Check out our blog about why using a professional interpreter saves money and lives! Or for professionals in other fields, have a look at our general tips for working with interpreters.

Watch this space for Top Tips for Healthcare Professionals and Interpreters Working Together Part 2. If you have any tips you’d like to be included, please let us know!

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