Best Practices for Communicating Through an Interpreter in Healthcare

Healthcare Interpretation eBookWhen a language barrier arises in a healthcare setting, communication may become stressful for any professional. In situations where you need to communicate with a patient who is not proficient in English, professional medical interpreters are available to overcome language barriers. Professional interpreters in healthcare have been shown to reduce liability, aid in effective communication, and increase client understanding and satisfaction with services.

Communicating through an interpreter helps organizations to provide a better experience for the client. If you are new to utilizing interpreter services, these best practices for communicating via a trained medical interpreter will assist your organization in having a positive and effective interpreting session.


Who Qualifies as a Healthcare Interpreter?

On-staff interpreters, contract interpreters, telephone interpreters, trained bilingual staff, and trained volunteers may qualify as healthcare interpreters. In addition to being trained, a certified medical interpreter will have specific knowledge of medical terminology to ensure accuracy in interpreting. It is important in any healthcare setting to use qualified interpreters. Failure to comply with interpreting standards could result in fines and have clinical consequences for patients.  For these reasons, the following people, are not qualified as healthcare interpreters: children, family and friends of patients, other patients, patient visitors, and untrained bilingual staff or volunteers.


Tips For Communicating Through an Interpreter in a Healthcare Setting

1. Introduce yourself to the interpreter. Give a brief overview, if necessary, of the situation so the interpreter can provide the right tone for the conversation. For example, a routine visit may require a different tone than giving a diagnosis. Understand that the interpreter will only be interpreting what you say. They are there to provide communication and understanding, not add to the conversation.

2. Understand that the interpreter as a communication professional. A clear understanding and acknowledgment of the interpreter’s role in healthcare will help your patient feel more at ease with the conversation.

3. Speak clearly and slowly. Many people have a tendency to speak louder, but speaking clearly will be sufficient and time-effective as it avoids the interpreter having to clarify the communication.

4. Speak to the patient, not to your interpreter. Remember, the interpreter is there to provide understanding and communication, but the communication is between you and the patient.

5. Speak in complete thoughts and pause so the interpreter can interpret your message. Avoid asking multiple questions at once.

6. Understand and be aware that everything you say, and everything the patient says, is being interpreted. A professional, trained interpreter will not alter the conversation.

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7. Avoid colloquialisms, idioms, and slang. Remember that the use of slang or colloquialisms may not translate into another language, and may not be culturally appropriate. For example, you wouldn’t want to say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” You would want to say, “It’s raining.” Using clear and simple language will avoid any time delays and be more productive and time-efficient.
8. Be aware of cultural factors. The interpreter will be aware of cultural differences and cultural awareness training may be available through your language services provider, as well as free support materials, to help you and your staff communicate effectively with patients of different languages and cultures.
9. Be sure that one person speaks at a time. Make sure in a session with a medical interpreter that only one person is speaking and avoid interrupting. This can confuse the conversation, and take more time if things are needed to be repeated or re-explained. Remembering this tip will provide the most accurate interpretation and flow of conversation.
10. Allow more time for interpreted communication. Sometimes with emergencies and last-minute meetings, time constraints may be a factor, but especially for meetings planned in advance, be sure to allow enough time for the interpretation process. Being rushed for time leads to ineffective communication in any setting, but when language barriers are involved, it is important to have the time to make sure everyone is understood. It will also help your patient to feel comfortable and more satisfied with the overall experience.

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Having dependable access to language services allows healthcare professionals to provide better service, and shows the community you serve that you are committed to patient-centered care. It will also save time so you and your staff can be more productive when communicating through an interpreter with limited-English proficient patients.


Want to learn more about how to improve patient communication and satisfaction? Optimize star rating? Need help achieving or maintain compliance with government standards? Get your free eBook to Language Access in Healthcare!

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Communication is important. Being understood is important. Communicating through an interpreter in healthcare settings doesn’t have to be difficult. Telelanguage has been providing professional medical interpreters for healthcare organizations since 1991, and over 70% of our current clients are healthcare entities. Our team of 5,000+ certified interpreters is ready to speak in over 300 languages. We offer complete language service solutions, including telephonic interpretation, on-site interpretation, video remote interpretation, and translation services.


No matter what your language needs are, Telelanguage can help. Superior language support when you need it — available 24/7, 365 days a year. Have questions? Chat with us live or contact us for more information for your health center.


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