Do I need certified medical interpreters for my practice?

In a growing global economy, the influx of immigrants has led to an ever-expanding number of people seeking health care but not speaking or understanding English. Because of this, the medical interpreting field has seen massive expansion, and the need for medical interpreters is greater than ever. Does it matter, though, if you hire a certified medical interpreter, or can you just hire anybody with fluency in their target language?

The benefit of hiring a certified medical interpreter is in knowing how extensively they have been trained in medical interpreting. The language skills needed for medical interpreting are specialized, and often not taught (at least not comprehensively) in high school or college programs in the target languages.

Interpreting is also more demanding than simply carrying on a conversation in the target language. The interpreter must learn when to simultaneously interpret, and when to wait for breaks to interpret. The skills required to successfully help facilitate communication between the healthcare provider and the patient are not skills that would be acquired in most high school or college language programs.

The lack of proper training leads to several major problems, often with tragic consequences. Having an uncertified medical interpreter is like a doctor not having the right training—the interpreter might be able to perform some of his or her responsibilities, just like a doctor could still apply a bandage to a wound without proper training, but deep, intensive interpretation work would be almost impossible.

In the past, medical practices that failed to have certified medical interpreters performing their healthcare interpretation services have caused misinformation to patients, often with deadly consequences. This could mean the death of a patient, or a lawsuit, or any number of other negative consequences. The dangers of not having a trained, certified medical interpreter can include any or all of the following:

  • Poor quality health care to the patient, because they do not understand what is happening
  • Abuse of power by a non- trained interpreter
  • The omission of important information
  • Death of the patient, because the patient did not properly understand the instructions of his or her doctor

This often happens because the medical interpreter is not as fluent in the target language as he or she thinks. We witnessed one example where the (uncertified) interpreter knew the target language well enough for daily conversations but did not understand how to translate important medical terms into that target language. They would just repeat the same English words, rather than trying to interpret them, and the patient did not know what those words meant.

Don’t take any chances—make sure your medical interpreters are well-trained, and can properly handle your medical interpreting needs.

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