The Virtual Care Blog

5 Reasons Why You Need a Medical Interpreter

Posted by Christina Comben

At some point, you’ve probably been there. You’re working on a ward late at night, or attending to your patients at the clinic, when suddenly,  in comes a person in need of medical care speaking a foreign language.

Depending on where your practice is based, you may have several staff on hand who know a bit of Spanish. But unless they’re also practicing physicians, speaking the same language as the patient doesn’t make them a qualified medical interpreter.

Here are 5 reasons why you need a medical interpreter.

  1. Inaccurate Medical Interpreting Can Put Patients’ Lives at Risk

Even the smallest error when interpreting for a foreign language-speaking patient can put their lives in danger. Your janitor, receptionist, or family member of the patient may speak the language in question, but they don’t have special medical training and aren’t able to assess which facts may be crucial for a doctor to know – such as if the patient takes Aspirin, or has any pertinent underlying medical conditions.

  1. Patients May Misunderstand Their Plan of Care and/or Diagnosis

While many gestures and emotions may be universal and a long-time cancer sufferer probably won’t misinterpret a terminal diagnosis, they may fail to understand the best course of action to take – how to administer their medication, what their chances of recovery are, or any specific actions they need to avoid after treatment. A medical interpreter is specially trained to ensure that the patient understands all the facts of their diagnosis.

  1. You’re Placing Your Practice at Risk

Plain and simple. If you’re not using trained medical interpreters for your foreign language speaking patients, then you’re placing your practice at risk. Even the smallest error in interpreting can lead to a multi-million dollar lawsuit that could ruin you. As the Hispanic population will outnumber white Caucasians by 2060 in the USA, medical interpreting is only going to become more important.

  1. You Could be Breaking the Law

State laws vary. However, federal law now states in the USA that all patients have a right to a competent medical interpreter. Failure to provide language assistance to  patients who are not fully competent in English could be breaking the law, and patients now have the right to complain if your facility does not provide them with a medical interpreter. Penalties range from large fines to imprisonment, and even having your medical license revoked.

  1. Medical Interpreting Can be Done Over-the-Phone

If you have a small practice and can’t justify the cost of a full-time medical interpreter, or your need is urgent and the language uncommon, you can now access a qualified medical interpreter over-the-phone. This is a very economical way of ensuring compliance, as well as a practical way of getting the linguistic help you need fast.

So if you’ve been avoiding contracting the services of a professional medical interpreter for any reason, then now’s the time you started considering it for the benefit of your patients, your practice and your own peace of mind.


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