What Medical Translation Is and What Not to Expect From Healthcare Interpreters

Most people probably don’t appreciate the importance of having a medical translator or a healthcare interpreter present in the same hospital to be on call in moments of immediate need. But because more and more immigrants are becoming part of the bigger community and one cannot simply cast them aside or treat them with lesser importance, hospital heads should be informed of the possible liabilities they may face by hospital caregivers’ not being able to understand their patients when they need to express what their condition is or what pain they are experiencing. Hospitals must not automatically assume that everyone who enters the facility will speak a language that healthcare personnel can understand. It goes without saying that sick or ill persons cannot be treated properly if no one comprehends what they is feeling or what they need and no one is present to translate for them in their time of need or emergency.

Consider the scenario of having a Spanish immigrant entering a hospital for a check-up. He will have to fill out forms, express to the nurses and doctors the specifics of his pain or his illness for the past few days, months, or years, and answer other questions that are pertinent to his diagnosis and treatment. If he doesn’t know how to speak in English, someone well versed in the native tongue and the foreign language will have to do both the Spanish translation for him and the English translation for the hospital staff. How much worse when a person unable to speak English is rushed to the emergency room by a friend, needing immediate attention and treatment! Having a medical translator on call could mean the difference between life and death.

However, there are many things that a medical professional should take care to be sensitive about when dealing with a healthcare translator or interpreter. For one, the interpreter cannot be asked to assist in any medical procedures unless stated in his contract. An interpreter is present for the sole purpose of enabling the understanding between patient and healthcare provider possible so that intervention can flow smoothly and expediently. The translator cannot restrain patients, assist during treatment, or conduct procedures in lieu of a professional.

A medical interpreter also cannot be asked to fill out or read forms for the patient and facilitate documentation for him. He is there to clarify points  that cannot be understood because the language of the forms or the hospital is different from the one the patient speaks. Anything beyond that and the translator may be saying what is erroneous or inappropriate, or he may be giving medical advice that could complicate rather than alleviate the issue at hand.

Assessing a patient’s stability is also another problem that can never be asked of medical translators, at least, on a professional level. Advice regarding psychological tendencies of a patient should be left with the qualified practitioners and not with someone who just happens to know the patient’s native language.

These three things, among many other examples, are just some of the many ways that liabilities are increased for the hospital because of soliciting unmerited inputs from a professional who doesn’t have any jurisdiction regarding decisions for treatment of a patient. Remember that he is there to lessen liabilities by making communication clearer and more efficient for both parties, so that the doctors can do their jobs and make the patient better, as quickly as possible. Knowing the lines that shouldn’t be crossed may be helpful in preserving the integrity of the workplace and the professionals who operate it.

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