Found in Translation: what are healthcare interpreters?

Healthcare interpreters

Healthcare interpreters bridge the gap between doctors and patients when the former and the latter don’t speak the same language. You might be thinking that both you and your doctor speak English and you could still use a Babel fish -and a cryptographer just to decipher your doctor’s writing. Now imagine how a person who doesn’t speak English must feel when they or a member of their family has to go through a procedure or listen to a diagnosis without having a clue as to what is going on. You’d probably be at a loss for words trying to describe that.

 Many health systems are employing interpreters, either on full-time or on a freelance basis, as well as using phone or video services to take the place that used to be filled by relatives. The problem is that even when there is a bilingual relative there is always a potential for subjectivity. For instance, the relative doing the translating might feel the need to hide some things from the patient in a bid to protect them but actually and inadvertently doing them a disservice. Moreover, the improvised interpreter may very well misinterpret the technical language employed by the medical professional, leading to the type of blunder that could cause World War III at the United Nations General Assembly.

That is why healthcare interpreters are not just multi-lingual, but need to be trained and certified (which entails at least 40 hours of training and passing a national exam) before they can be relied on to convey specific terminology in a manner that can be understood and comprehended by a patient. Even though interpreters are expected to translate every single thing that is said without adding or subtracting anything, their job amounts to a whole lot more than just repeating like a well-taught parrots. On the contrary, they need to know what they’re talking about because they are supposed to relay not just words but also meaning.

Although healthcare interpreters may not be ubiquitous after -all they do tend mostly to minorities- they are by no means a loose body. The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care was formed in 1998, and published a code of ethics in 2004, followed by standards of practice a year later. As the years have passed, requirements for interpreters in the healthcare field have become stricter, but weeding out people who are not cut out for this line of work ensures that those who do make will observe such rules of thumb as protecting confidentiality, staying up to date with medical terminology, asking for clarification if necessary, and remaining emotionally and personally detached from the patient.   

It could be argued that at times the healthcare interpreter has the potential of being the most important person in a medical facility, as they are the only ones who have both sides of the story. That’s something we perfectly understand here at Discount Medical Supplies, what with us being one of the few if not the only medical supplies website that offers bilingual customer support. 

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