Training Clinicians to Effectively Work with Interpreters in Healthcare Settings 

Many patients miss out on using an interpreter in healthcare settings due to inadequate resources, lack of understanding of how to properly utilize interpreters, and fear of exposing their language status. Unfortunately, this ultimately results in compromised care due to difficulty in accurately communicating with healthcare providers, misunderstandings, and eventually, a lack of quality care. It is important to ensure that all clinicians are trained in how to use interpreters, that proper resources are available to facilitate language support, and that all patients have access to quality care, regardless of their language barriers. 

Clinicians must be aware of and understand the language complexities that arise when working with interpreters and be well-informed on all protocols and guidelines for working with them. Training clinicians on how to use interpreters helps to ensure best practices are being used to facilitate accurate communication between healthcare providers and patients, ensure confidentiality of information, and ensure cultural competency when providing care. 

Using family to interpret for clinicians for LEP (Limited English Proficient) patients is generally not recommended. Working with family members can lead to a potential conflict of interest due to their relationship to the patient being interpreted for. Additionally, family members may not have an appropriate level of medical terminology or clinical understanding. It is best to use a professional interpreter when working with LEP patients to ensure accurate, unbiased interpretation. 

Some of the ways that clinicians can be trained to use interpreters are:  

  1. Provide online training courses to teach clinicians about the basics of working with interpreters, such as common protocols and best practices. 
  2. Offer seminars and workshops to let clinicians learn in a more hands-on environment. 
  3. Invite experienced interpreters to come speak to clinicians about their roles and responsibilities and how to best utilize their services. 
  4. Educate clinicians on common types of interpreting situations, such as medical appointments, legal proceedings, and mental health services. 
  5. Allow clinicians to practice their communication skills with real-time interpreters. 
  6. Demonstrate effective communication strategies for working with interpreters. 
  7. Encourage clinicians to read up on the latest standards of practice and guidelines for working with interpreters.

Hospitals will have policies in place governing the proper use of interpreters for Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients. Such policies should address issues such as how to hire professional interpreters, how to use interpreters appropriately, confidentiality practices for interpreter services, and other related topics. Having a set of policies in place governing the use of interpreters ensures that hospital staff are aware of the proper procedures to follow when communicating with LEP patients and will result in better communication and patient care. 

At IMS Interpreter Management System, we see the passion of those that work in the Language Services in Health and the need for excellent software for scheduling interpreters.  Having an integrated platform that streamlines the process of booking interpreters adds value to the patients, clinicians and staff.  Integration with patient management systems and language providers is key.  Awesome reporting tools equip Language Service Departments with statistics including peak times, peak languages, interpreter workload, etc. that help make right strategic decisions for better patient care.  

Below are some references for further information: 

1. American Medical Association Journal of Ethics: Clinicians’ Obligations to Use Qualified Medical Interpreters When Caring for Patients with Limited English Proficiency

2. National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. (2020). Guide to Interpreter Positioning in Health Care Settings 

3. US Department of Health & Human Services: Language Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic & Other Health Emergencies

4. Queensland Health: Working with Interpreters Guidelines         

5. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: Collaborating With Interpreters, Transliterators, and Translators

6. American Medical Association Journal of Ethics: Clinicians’ Obligations to Use Qualified Medical Interpreters When Caring for Patients with Limited English Proficiency

7. NIH National Library of Medicine: Do not lose your patient in translation: Using interpreters effectively in primary care

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