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Health Care Interpreter

When it comes to providing health care services, communication is an essential factor. The patient will need to describe their symptoms, discuss treatment and results, and give their informed consent.

Research shows that language barriers can cause numerous issues in health care. Being unable to communicate clearly with medical professionals can result in misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment plans, and failure to follow through with appointments for routine screening. Of course, if the patient has limited English proficiency (LEP) and the doctor cannot speak their language, there can be great difficulty communicating. This is where the role of the health care interpreter comes into play.

Healthcare Interpreting

Specialist health care interpreters with recognized qualifications from the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) can overcome the language barrier. A 2007 study found that the presence of a trained professional interpreter positively affects patients’ experience. In fact, a trained health care interpreter’s presence increases the quality of an LEP patient’s experience to equal that of a patient with no language barriers. This study specifically looked at the presence of a trained medical interpreter rather than an ad hoc interpreter (such as a friend or family member).

Healthcare Interpreting


Emergency treatment

Emergency medical situations can be frightening and confusing, even when the patient receives treatment in their native language. The sounds and heightened state of adrenaline during an emergency situation can cause extra stress that makes treatment difficult.

Health care interpreting services performed by a professional with in-depth knowledge and expertise can help to alleviate patient stress. It allows the patient to accurately describe symptoms, relevant medical history, and more. Accurate diagnosis requires detailed questioning. A highly trained health care interpreter can provide comfort and reassurance during a very worrying situation.

Long-term care

Full understanding of what to expect from both the patient and the provider is important in planning long-term health care. Recovering from an illness or injury, adjusting to life after an accident or dealing with a new diagnosis all need detailed treatment plans. Undergoing long-term health care is a difficult and stressful period for a patient and their family. Trying to overdo it or misunderstanding a medication schedule can have serious and lasting consequences and prevents the patient from obtaining the treatment they need. A qualified health care interpreter ensures that the patient understands every element of long-term health care planning. They can also aid the patient in asking questions and obtaining relevant information for a long-term care plan.

Routine screening

Early diagnosis can aid in preventing or treating many serious conditions. However, research shows that people fail to make appointments for routine screening due to language barriers. Registering with a doctor, calling hospitals and health care providers and speaking to medical professionals can be daunting even during the best of times. Unfortunately, too many people stop seeking treatment simply because they struggle to communicate.

A professional medical interpreter can do more than simply attend appointments. They can also help to arrange healthcare coverage, discuss medical history and make appointments with the relevant providers.

Mental health care

Not all health care requirements are physical. Living with mental health issues can be just as debilitating and distressing, especially during times of great stress. Being unable to communicate one’s symptoms to healthcare professionals can have a profound negative effect during an already difficult time.

Trained medical interpreters have experience in supporting people with mental health issues. They are tactful, discreet and sympathetic. Providing gentle encouragement alongside ensuring the correct treatment is sought and provided can help with recovery. Furthermore, interpreters are sworn to privacy through their code of conduct. Patients can rest easy knowing their sensitive personal information is safe.


When a loved one requires medical treatment or end of life care it can be a very difficult time for an individual. If there is a language barrier preventing involvement in their care, the experience is even more difficult.
When a medical professional performs home visits for sick or elderly relatives or carries out daily assessments in hospital or hospice care, interpreters can help. Ensuring to obtain informed consent for procedures and meeting compliance for all legal aspects is even more important if the patient is not aware of the circumstances.

Certified interpreters

In an area as sensitive and personal as health care, it’s vital to appoint a specially trained, fully qualified and industry accredited interpreter. CCHI administers a comprehensive certification program to ensure medical interpreters meet qualifications and have undergone the necessary training to perform their duties. CCHI operates under strict standards and has an online registry of accredited professionals.
Appointing a medical interpreter requires as much care and importance as choosing a medical practitioner. Health is something that can’t be left to chance.

Global Arena has a network of industry accredited health care interpreters. You can also learn more about CCHI by visiting our blog entry Path to Medical Interpreter certification

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