5 Tips for Using a Telephone Interpreter in a Healthcare Setting

5 Tips for Using a Telephone Interpreter in a Healthcare Setting

Using a telephone interpreter in healthcare can be challenging if you don’t understand best practices. It’s important to know how to make your time with a professional telephone interpreter effective and meaningful for your limited-English proficient (LEP) patients.

When using interpreters in healthcare settings, always make sure they are a certified medical interpreter. Why certified? Recent Anti-Discrimination changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) require that hospitals, health plans, clinics, nursing homes, physicians, and other providers must offer “qualified interpreters” to Limited English Proficient patients.

For more information on understanding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), download our free Language Access Checklist.

While these changes are necessary for providing quality care to LEP Patients, healthcare professionals often struggle with how to use a professional interpreter effectively. The good news? You don’t have to struggle when using professional phone interpreters in healthcare settings! As a leading provider of certified medical interpreters, we understand where problems can arise and have come up with 5 simple tips for using a telephone interpreter for LEP patients in a healthcare environment.   

Tips for Using a Telephone Interpreter in Healthcare

1. Begin the conversation by allowing interpreters to introduce themselves and provide their interpreter identification number.

Professional interpreters will give a brief introduction at the beginning of your call in the patient’s language. This introduction consists of identifying themselves as a professional interpreter, explaining their role as a channel for communication, clarifying with the patient that they will interpret everything they say, and giving their Identification number.

NOTE: It is important to write down the interpreter identification number in the patient’s file or patient notes for continuity and tracking.

2. Provide the interpreter with brief context.

Briefly explain the purpose of the call. This will ensure that the interpreter will be able to provide an appropriate tone for the situation. For example, a routine follow-up would naturally have a different tone than a very serious or immediate situation. 


3. Speak to your patient (not to the interpreter).

Speak to your patient directly as if the interpreter was not present. Making eye contact with your patient (not at the phone – or screen if using Video Remote Interpreting) and speaking in the first person will bring simplicity, conciseness, and a natural flow to the conversation. Not only will this ensure accuracy on the healthcare side, but it will also help patients feel more comfortable and natural in the setting, allowing for a more accurate account or response from your LEP patient.

Example: “Tell Mr. Tao that we will require a blood test today.”

Suggestion: “Mr. Tao, we will require a blood test today.” 


4. Choose standard and formal speech. Avoid slang and colloquialisms.

Common phrases for native English speakers like “feeling blue” or “let’s wrap up” may not translate effectively into another language. Using direct, uncomplicated language will reduce the chance of confusion that can arise due to cultural differences.

5. Use complete and concise sentences.

Speaking to your patient in complete and concise sentences will simplify the message and maximize comprehension. Pausing briefly between your sentences will aid the phone interpreter in delivering the most straightforward message by not having to memorize paragraphs of speech at one time.

Example: “So, what I’m was thinking is that I’d like to start by going over your lab results if that sounds good to you?”

Suggestion: “I would like to explain your lab results, please.”

Tip: “Please” and “thank you” are relatively universal means of conveying politeness in different cultures. Using “please” and “thank you” can reduce filler words that may not translate well and will help your phone interpreter deliver the clearest message to your patient.


These 5 tips for using telephone interpreters in healthcare are easy to implement and will maximize your time with your professional interpreter! Have you tried these tips? Let us know your experience in the comments below.


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Quality and expert interpretations for medical appointments are available telephonically, face to face, or by video remote!