Why do healthcare facilities need to use interpreting services?

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that interpreter services be provided for patients with limited English proficiency who need this service, despite the lack of reimbursement in most states.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services through the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) includes the following 4 mandates:
    • Language assistance for patients with limited English proficiency should be offered at no cost to the patient
    • Patients should be notified of the availability of language assistance services in their preferred language; both verbally and in writing
    • The competence of interpreters should be ensured, and the use of untrained persons or minors as interpreters should be avoided
    • Easily understood print materials and signage should be provided in the languages commonly used in the services area


Why do healthcare facilities need to use professional interpreters?

Professional interpreters are superior to the usual practice of using ad-hoc interpreters (i.e. family, friends, or untrained staff). Untrained interpreters are more likely to make errors, violate confidentiality and increase the risk of poor outcomes. Other problems with using an ad-hoc interpreter:

  • They may provide unsolicited advice
  • A higher risk of longer hospital stays or readmission
  • They may have personal agendas
  • The scope of inquiry is limited if the ad-hoc interpreter is embarrassed about intimate or sexual issues
  • Unfamiliarity with medical terminology


How does using a professional interpreter increase the patient experience?

The use of professional interpreters increases Patient Satisfaction by:

  • Improving patient’s comprehension
  • Reducing adverse events, thus limiting malpractice risks
  • Improving patient’s medication adherence and treatment outcomes
  • Improving the quality of clinical care for LEP patients equaling the care for patients without language barriers
  • Providing better care and enhance compliance
  • Interpreter acting as a cultural liaison to ensure clarification for the physician and patient
  • Interpreter clarifying for the patient beyond language; taking cultural nuances into consideration
  • Interpreter may function as a link between patients and the health system

If you are interested in learning more about Global Arena’s medical interpreting programs, please click here.


  1. Do Professional Interpreters Improve Clinical Care for Patients with Limited English Proficiency? A Systematic Review of the Literature https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1955368/
  2. Appropriate Use of Medical Interpreters. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/1001/p476.html#afp20141001p476-b6
  3. Improving Patient Safety Systems for Patients With Limited English Proficiency: A Guide for Hospitals https://www.ahrq.gov/sites/default/files/publications/files/lepguide.pdf
  4. The Impact of an Enhanced Interpreter Service Intervention on Hospital Costs and Patient Satisfaction https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078550/
  5. Patient Satisfaction with Different Interpreting Methods: A Randomized Controlled Trial https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078551/
  6. Examining Effectiveness of Medical Interpreters in Emergency Department for Spanish Speaking Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial http://www.imiaweb.org/uploads/docs/using_professionally_trained_interpreters_to_increase_patient_provider_satisfaction.pdf
  7. Effect of Spanish Interpretation Method on Patient Satisfaction in an Urban Walk-in Clinic https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1495083/
  8. National CLAS Standards https://www.thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov/clas

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