Professional Interpreters

In our previous post on translation, we discussed the pros and cons of using family members to help translate information in clinical consultations. I think it is fair to say that we thought there were more cons than pros to this approach. An important point to raise from the outset is that the family do not need to interpret. Professional interpreters are available to the healthcare professional to provide this service.

Are they beneficial?

Professional interpreters are beneficial in the healthcare setting. They enable the flow of a consultation with a low English proficiency patient (LEP). Furthermore, they improve the quality of health care by reducing communication errors,

  • enhancing patient understanding and,
  • They are improving satisfaction with communications.

If you saw my other blog post, you would have picked up that I did not always interpret as well as I could have done for my mum. On reflection, I might have compromised my mums care. However, we cannot just pick professional medical interpreters randomly.

The difference between interpreters

First, it is worth saying that it is not uncommon to ask the staff working within a hospital to translate information between healthcare professionals and patients. Lynn remembers secretaries being called into clinics to help with a translation in a large multi-cultural city.

But this isn’t always an ideal situation. For example, one doctor from Edinburgh describes how his workload increased due to being asked to interpret. Consequently, he thought his patient care might not be as good as it otherwise might be because he was always busy. He suggested that healthcare professionals or support staff should only interpret in an emergency.

So who can we use?

Well, we can use professional medical interpreters to lighten the workload. They are people who either work for themselves or as part of an interpreting organisation. In short, a successful interpreter is someone who is ‘Appropriate and Independent.’ ¹ Ideally, they will be of the same gender as the patient and speak both the same language and dialect. As well as being appropriate and independent, professional interpreters must abide by their code of professional conduct.

Code of Conduct

  • In essence, the code of conduct covers the following principles: Treat all information as confidential.
  • Relay an accurate message, taking into consideration its cultural context.
  • Remain impartial and refrain from counselling a patient.
  • Refrains from personal involvement.
  • Treat all parties with respect.
  • When the patient’s health, well-being, or dignity is at risk, act as an advocate for the patient to support good health outcomes. 
  • Continually further his/her knowledge and skills.
  • Act professionally and ethically.

How do I access professional interpreters?

Interpretation and translation services should be available for anyone with low English proficiency and who need help with translation. Ideally, there should be a note in the patient’s health records to alert people that an interpreter is required for a clinical consultation. It is then the admin team’s responsibility to book and arrange an appropriate interpreter before any appointment. Also, it is worth saying that interpreting services for patients are free. I found this all very interesting.

My mum’s healthcare team have never asked if she wants to use a professional interpreter. As a family, we have always assumed it was our responsibility to interpret for my parents or find a professional interpreter. So, if your family require interpreting services, you might want to explore this with your clinical teams.

What are the pros and cons of Professional Interpreters?

Professional interpreters help improve patient compliance with treatments and care recommendations, improve patient satisfaction and understanding.¹ Additionally, the rights of the individual are more likely to be respected. Moreover, healthcare professionals can trust that the medical information is correctly and appropriately translated, which would not necessarily be the case with a family member interpreter. But I suppose, as with everything, using professional translation services comes with a cost to the NHS. A quick search on google suggests that this is an expensive service, but if it saves lives and transforms care, isn’t that a worthwhile cost? Finally

If you have an interesting story to share along these lines, then please share your experiences with us by completing this short form.
  1. Karliner, L. Jacobs, E., Chen, A. Mutha, S. (2007) Do Professional Interpreters improve clinical care for patients with limited English proficiency? A Systematic Review of the Literature. Health Services Research. 42(2). pp 727-754


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