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The Importance of Interpreters in Healthcare

A viral TikTok recently highlighted the importance of medical interpreters in healthcare.

In the video, Jen Hamilton, a labor and delivery nurse in North Carolina, shared her experience with a patient who speaks Spanish.

“If I get a patient that speaks Spanish, I will call the Spanish interpreter first,” Hamilton said in the video.

She explained that after calling the Spanish interpreter, she tries to use her basic high-school Spanish skills to communicate with the patient. However, this doesn’t always go according to plan.

While waiting for the Spanish interpreter, Hamilton decided to go ahead and get the patient changed. She meant to say “remove your clothing” but instead, in Spanish, she asked the patient to “cut your hair.”

Later in the video, Hamilton also said that she tried to bring a Spanish-speaking patient water with ice but in Spanish, she said it was “water with beans.”

This lighthearted video highlights that medical interpreters can help make patients more comfortable and relaxed when they are in the hospital.

What is Medical Interpreting?

Medical interpreters improve clinical care for patients with limited English proficiency. These professional interpreters work with healthcare professionals and patients to make sure both parties are able to communicate.

Medical interpreters are called upon to translate key medical information when a patient and health care provider speak different languages.

Without professional medical interpreters, many patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) rely on ad hoc interpreters such as bilingual family members to relay crucial health care information.

Professional medical interpreters break down language barriers and can even improve clinical outcomes for patients.

Why Are Medical Interpreters Essential?

While patients with limited English proficiency may bring a bilingual friend or family member to translate, this is not always the best option.

Although friends or family members would have the patient’s best interest in mind, they are not always trained in medical terminology and may not accurately pass along essential healthcare information.

Without accurate information, the patient might not be able to make the most informed healthcare decision.

Plus, it can be mentally and emotionally challenging for family members to take on this role ad hoc. And many patients don’t even have a bilingual friend or family member available to help.

Research has shown that “communication barriers can lead to a variety of problems, including aggression, hindrance of care, lack of informed consent, and avoidance of the healthcare system, among other negative outcomes.”

When hospitals and healthcare centers can provide professional medical interpreters, there might be great patient satisfaction and improved clinical outcomes.

ALTA’s Medical Language Testing Services

ALTA offers a variety of services for anyone considering a career as a medical interpreter.

The 40-hour Online Medical Interpreter Training Course is perfect for anyone just starting out in the field or looking to maintain their current certification. No medical background is required to sign up for the course. Over the course of 16 weeks, you’ll have unlimited access to video lessons and weekly live office hours.

After completing the course you can sign up for a medical language test to certify your skills. Hospitals and healthcare centers sometimes require these tests to ensure their staff can provide the required interpreter services.

These tests include:

  • The Qualified Bilingual Staff (QBS) Assessment
  • Clinician Cultural and Linguistic Assessment (CCLA)
  • ALTA’s Bilingual Medical Assessment
  • ALTA’s Speaking and Listening Assessment

These tests examine language proficiency for medical terminology and general conversation, which are both essential for professional medical interpreters.

As Jen Hamilton’s viral video suggests, medical interpreters are key to a positive outcome for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). Although accidentally asking a patient to cut their hair or offering water with beans may seem harmless, these point to situations where miscommunications could lead to more serious consequences for patients. It is crucial that LEP patients get the professional interpreting services they require in order to receive the best health care outcomes.

If you are interested in ALTA’s medical language interpreter services, contact our language testing team to learn more.

Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator.
You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.

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