What Are Medical Interpreter Services & How Do They Work?



What Are Medical Interpreter Services & How Do They Work

Interpreting services play an essential role in many areas of life. And when it comes to the medical setting, in particular, they must be performed with absolute professionalism.

In a world where people seeking medical care are linguistically diverse, language barriers can negatively affect a patient’s ability to discuss their medical condition or to follow the doctor’s instructions. They can find it challenging to communicate clearly with the medical staff, making it harder for a doctor to deliver an assertive diagnosis.

And in extreme cases, a misunderstanding might even lead to life-threatening risks. 

Accordingly, access to interpreters who are highly trained and have outstanding professionalism is imperative. But, to find suitable quality interpreting services, there are big questions to be answered.

In this post, we discuss 5 frequently asked questions and answer them. Let’s get started.

What Are Medical Interpreter Services?

Medical interpreting services primarily refer to the conversion of spoken words in one language to their equivalent in another in a medical setting. The “original language” is the language of the speaker and the “target language” is that of the receiver.

The main goal of medical interpretation services is to achieve faithful rendering of communications exchanged between the two parties.

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Unlike translation, interpreting is done in real-time, and it involves making on-the-spot decisions.

Professional interpreters have to process a piece of speech and reproduce it simultaneously or sequentially in the other language. Consequently, this process leaves no room for hesitation or second thoughts. And when it comes to interpreting in the medical sector, accuracy and clarity become two indispensable qualities. 

This type of interpretation, which is even endorsed in academic contexts, is indeed quite serious. And so it should be treated with great care and be 100% error-free, on both linguistic and technical levels, especially since a small lapse in language can change the course of someone’s life.

It’s the reason why medical translation and interpretation services should be strictly carried out by highly qualified linguists who exclusively specialize in the medical field.

Who Is A Medical Interpreter?

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A medical interpreter is typically an expert bilingual who is fluent in two languages and takes the responsibility of facilitating communication between healthcare providers and patients. 

But that’s only a basic prerequisite. A medical interpreter is more than a language professional.

In the medical environment, broad-based bilingual training isn’t sufficient to be a medical interpreter, and it could be risky for both the patients and the healthcare organizations to get medical interpretations based only on linguistic expertise.

Medical interpreters are essentially medical experts, whose extensive knowledge and medical interpreting experience allow them to be equipped and be of great assistance to both patients and doctors. This is to be able to help them communicate effectively and ensure excellent medical care.

Why Medical Interpreter Services Are Indispensable for Your Medical Facility?

Nowadays, tens of thousands of languages, if not more, are spoken in the workplace and in various settings around the world.

Although we communicate with language, the use of it implies more than just words or expressions, sometimes it also involves gestures. And in situations where the language barrier might be big, we rely on both verbal and non-verbal communication to make ourselves understandable.

However, just like verbal communication, non-verbal communication, including gestures and turns of phrases, is not universal throughout cultures, and sometimes it can be misinterpreted. As a result, it is likely that important information gets overlooked, and the doctor-patient relationship becomes strained. 

Moreover, in multilingual and culturally-diverse regions, English is most commonly used to facilitate communication between people of different linguistic backgrounds. While this may work reasonably well in social and casual settings, it can never be a feasible solution in medical settings.

Here’s why. According to a 2020 study:

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Take the United States for example. Although English is the most spoken language, 21 million Americans have limited English proficiency (in 2015). That’s because the country is home to a number of different languages, including Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. If given the choice, people will always choose to communicate in their own languages.

Saudi Arabia is another example. A study investigating the effects of the dominant use of the English language on service delivery in one of the country’s hospitals has revealed significant language and communication barriers between medical practitioners and patients. The study has reported that 86.7% of medical staff and 60% of patients find it challenging to communicate in English.

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And as if all that weren’t enough. Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, the need for medical interpreters has become more persistent in the healthcare system. The increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations meant doctors had to deal with patients who may have spoken entirely different languages from theirs.

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 By providing a high-quality medical interpretation service, you minimize the risk of misunderstandings, increase the patient’s satisfaction, and guarantee regulatory compliance.

8 Steps Every Medical Interpreter Takes

Looking for a medical interpreter? Discover the career path of medical interpreters and qualifications they need to acquire to take on interpreting jobs.

3 Most Common Medical Interpreter Services

If you need medical interpreter services, you will find more than one option to choose from. You can get either on-site or remote interpretation services, depending on your needs. And even if you are settled on getting remote interpreting services, you will still need to decide which of its two types is better for you, video or phone interpreting. 

So, let us guide you through the 3 common types of interpreting services to help you get more insight into them before choosing the best one for you.

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On-site interpreting is the traditional way of providing interpretation services where the interpreter is physically present with the clients.

The interpreter listens to the message being delivered in the source language and renders it in the target language clearly and accurately to facilitate communication between the involved parties. 

This type of interpretation can be executed in any mode, be it simultaneous, consecutive, whispered, or relay, depending on what the parties agree on.  It is often preferred when the interpreter is needed for a long period of time, from a couple of hours to several days. And it is commonly used in medical appointments. conferences, business meetings, and legal proceedings.

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Over-the-phone interpretation is one form of remote interpreting services through which the interpretation process is conducted over the phone. It is more common in the medical sector than on-site interpreting since it is faster and more accessible.

With phone interpretation services, you can easily get connected to professional interpreters regardless of time and location, which is ideal in the medical context.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the reliance on telehealth services has been significantly increasing, and with it, the demand for phone interpreting services has been on the rise.

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Video Interpreting is the second form of remote interpreting services. Like phone interpretation, it enables easy and quick access to interpreters via video conferencing applications and platforms. However, it makes a great option for sign-language interpretation compared to phone interpreting. 

In the healthcare and medical sectors, video interpreting is commonly used to enable language-discordant medical consultations. Video interpreting services in the medical sector, or any sector for that matter, requires appropriate technical and spatial arrangements to be able to adapt to its spacial and audiovisual constraints.

5 Different Modes for Medical Interpretation

Besides their 3 common types, medical interpreter services are also available in several modes, each can be used for a certain purpose to meet different needs. Let us have a quick look at them.

In the simultaneous mode, the interpreter renders the message from the source language to the target language at the same time as the message is being delivered by the speaker.

According to Henri Barik’s study of simultaneous interpretation, the process of simultaneous interpreting is often considered very complex, involving rapid decoding and encoding operations. And that is why it requires excellent linguistic and multi-tasking skills, active listening, language fluency as well as deep industry knowledge.

The consecutive mode of interpreting, on the other hand, differs from the simultaneous one in the way that the interpreter does not start interpreting until the speaker finishes each utterance and pauses.

The speaker has to pause often and keep his/her interventions short to facilitate the interpretation process. So during the delivery of the message, the interpreter listens carefully to the message and takes notes in order to reconstitute it in a different language and render it accurately to the addressee. 

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The term sight interpreting refers to another common mode of interpreting that involves an oral translation of a written text. The interpreter’s job here is to read the text carefully, process its meaning, and then convey it to the listeners. 

In the medical field, sight interpretation is often used to interpret written texts like medical histories, patient forms, or information leaflets. For example, information leaflets can be sight interpreted to convey necessary information to the patient regarding an operation he/she is going to have.

This mode of interpretation involves orally translating a message to a single-person audience or a very small group of people. The interpreter literally whispers the interpreted message to the listeners so that his/her voice does not distract the ongoing speech.

Relay interpretation refers to the process of interpreting a message into a language that is common to a group of interpreters, whose job is to reinterpret the message into the target language of their clients.

The process is also known as indirect interpretation since a group of interpreters fully depends on one interpreter who is fluent in the source language. This can be of great use in international medical conferences where researchers are gathered from all over the world and speaking different, sometimes, rare languages.

How Does a Medical Interpreter Service Work? 4 Key Requirements & Practices

As you already know, every medical interpreter must have superb in-depth medical knowledge. Otherwise, this would undermine the interpretation’s accuracy and could even bring serious consequences to the patient’s health.

But besides this, there are key requirements and practices that also contribute to enhancing interpretation services and ensuring the welfare of patients, physicians, and healthcare providers. Here are some of the essential requirements and best practices of medical interpreter services.

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In such a very sensitive sector, HIPAA compliance is obligatory and is one of the key requirements for professional medical interpretation services. And to provide regulatory-compliant medical interpretation services, adherence to these acts is a must.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is an act that outlines the lawful use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI). This can include any demographic information that can be used to identify the patient including names, phone numbers, addresses, medical records, etc. 

And although its rules do not directly apply to medical interpreters, they do apply to healthcare providers and medical institutions to avoid any legal and even financial risks. Their role is to choose interpreters who can maintain the security and conditionality of the patients’ information they get access to and ensure it is never disclosed against the patient’s will.

One of the obvious contradictions ethical medical interpreters have to handle is trying to be empathetic but at the same time remain impartial. 

Interpreters may have to deliver bad news, relay sensitive information, or communicate details about an embarrassing or intimate issue. It is, therefore, imperative for them to be able to empathize with the patient and deliver the information with utmost care. 

However, while being empathetic, it is crucial to maintain a professional distance and remain impartial without ever being personally involved. Maintaining such a balance between two contradicting stands like these is crucial for medical interpretation services. 

On one hand, it enables interpreters to stay focused on the service they are providing and protects them emotionally. On the other hand, it prevents conflicts of interest within the confines of the professional role and helps to protect patients from any sort of abuse.

Interpreter-assisted medical encounters involve different parties from different cultural backgrounds. And since every culture has its own specificity, confusion and miscommunication are prone to happen due to cultural nuances. 

Not every question or topic will necessarily be well taken by the listener counterpart. The reason is that what can be a normal question in one place might be intrusive and disrespectful in another.  

So, in order to effectively deliver information back and forth and avoid miscommunication, medical interpreters need to possess cultural sensitivity and know how to navigate cultural differences during interpreting.

When it comes to  medical translation services, general translators and interpreters are never adequate enough to offer interpretation services in the highly-specialized medical field.

It is necessary for all interpreters working in a medical setting to possess the required qualifications and medical degrees to ensure maintaining medical integrity, one of medical interpretation services’ unnegotiable best practices.

It is also crucial to ensure that medical interpreters are well-versed in handling medical terminology accurately to ensure that they are hardly prone to make any mistakes that might lead to risky consequences. 

Also possessing a primary background in a certain medical specialization is a must. Possessing a medical degree does not mean that all medical translators can offer interpretation in any medical context. Specialization is necessary to maintain technical precision and avoid miscommunication. 

If you think that a medical interpreter specialized in cardiology can provide accurate interpretation at a conference on hematology, you’re completely mistaken.

Medical Interpreter Services from Top-Rated Providers

At bayantech, we know how important it’s to have smooth and clear communication in the medical field. Providing top-notch translation and interpretation services in Arabic as well as in other 120 languages, we help people overcome language barriers and have transformative yet reliable experiences.

Thanks to a world-class team of language professionals, pioneering technology, and our top-quality standards, we can provide you with top-notch support round the clock, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  

Contact us today to get an unparalleled interpreting solution, customized to your medical need, and get a free interpretation service quote.

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About Us

bayantech is a leading language service provider. Since 2004, we have been providing ISO-certified, smart, and effective translation and localization solutions to major global businesses and organizations, helping our clients smoothly cross the frontiers of language and culture, communicate effectively worldwide, and expand their markets.



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