Working Effectively with Medical Interpreters

Interpreter Choice
  • Unless thoroughly fluent in patient's language including medical terms, always try to work with a trained medical interpreter
  • Consider booking a longer appointment for office visits with an interpreter, let the interpreter know how long they will be needed
  • Avoid using family, friends, or untrained staff members as interpreters whenever possible because of problems with accuracy, confidentiality, and medical terminology
  • Minor children should never act as interpreters because of problems with disruption of social roles, sensitive issues, lack of knowledge and accuracy
  • Ask patient whether the designated interpreter is acceptable (gender, ethnicity, or dialect issues)

Interpreter Use
  • Clinician, interpreter, and patient should be positioned in a triangle
  • Speak to and maintain eye contact with the patient, not the interpreter. Looking back and forth at the interpreter from time to time is fine.
  • Ask interpreter to directly translate using first and second person ("I would like to..." and "Have you..." instead of "she says...")
  • If misunderstanding is suspected, try different wording, use pictures or diagrams, or ask the interpreter for help. They can help you understand cultural cues from the patient if they are from the same culture or are experienced in caring for this particular patient population.
  • To be sure the patient has understood key information or instructions, ask the patient to repeat back to you what they have understood through the interpreter.

End of Visit

  • Interpreters can write instructions in native language, if patient or patient's family reads in that language
  • For prescriptions given, indicate to the pharmacist what language prescription information should be given in
  • Interpreter can accompany patient to schedule follow up appointments or tests, and schedule future interpreters as needed

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