Bilingual employees vs medical interpreters – which is better?

If you’re a nurse, physician, surgeon, doctor or anyone else working in the healthcare sector, it’s highly likely that you’ve encountered a communication problem with a patient at some point in your medical career.

Scenario: Let’s say you’re working on a ward late at night, or maybe you’re attending to your patients at the clinic, and suddenly, a non-English speaking Asian male walks into the room who is in need of medical care…

… What do you do?

The best short-term solution might be to rely on one of your bilingual employees at the hospital or the patients family members or friends might be able to support you with translation assistance. However, it’s important to bear in mind that these strategies aren’t always recommended as they have shown to be associated with a number of issues related to poor quality communication and care and breaches of confidentiality.

Relying on bilingual staff or bilingual family members can often lead to misunderstandings of a patients symptoms, their healthcare plan, and providing accurate instructions for medication dosage or usage. Going through a consent process usually involves a conversation using complex medical words/terms that non-medical staff are just simply not trained to deal with.

So, not only does trusting bilingual staff entail some level of risk, it also means that they would have many responsibilities that keep dragging their attention away from the interpretation at hand.

This is where certified medical interpreters can step in.

It’s like Uncle Ben tells Peter from the Spider-man movies, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Now you might be wondering how this classic movie reference directly applies to medical interpreters. First and foremost, medical interpreters are very different to any other type of interpreters working in their respective niche; they understand that with their job role comes “great responsibility” because any miscommunication within the healthcare realm can most certainly affect a person’s life.

Which is yet another reason why you should not rely on your bilingual colleagues or the patients family members or friends for translations. Just because someone is bilingual or can speak your patient’s language, does not mean they are an interpreter. Many other skills come into play, such as knowing the correct medical terminology – which is almost like learning a new language on its own – and how it can be translated in the language they’ll be interpreting for. Because of this, a professional has the expertise to interpret each conversation, word for word, with 100% speed and accuracy.

Speaking of which, medical interpreting can often be quite fast paced as not every scenario/patient is nearly ever the same, which will most likely rattle a non-professional. For example, if you’re in an urgent medical situation where a patient has sustained major injuries, such as broken bones, then good communication is certainly needed with the doctors. This can throw off a non-professional completely because they are not trained to deal with such situations.

Not so with professional medical interpreters.

Their experience and interpreting know-how in high-risk situations means they can remain calm and keep up with the conversation – which means more lives saved. These are just a couple of reasons why certified medical interpreters, CMIs, are more equipped to do a better job than anybody else.

So in order to improve quality of healthcare for non-English speaking patients, you should definitely be recruiting certified medical interpreters. This will undoubtedly make all the difference to the lives of both non-English speaking patients and healthcare professionals. They don’t only help to reduce communication barriers and medical errors, but they also help to better patient satisfaction, improve health results and better compliance with medical procedures – which as a result, makes it easier for healthcare professionals to fully understand their patients and become more successful in their field.

It really is a win-win for all parties involved.

But who really needs a certified medical interpreter?

According to a study conducted by the Green Paper in March 2018, only 770,000 of people residing in the UK aged 16 and over say they cannot speak English well or at all; and most of those people – estimated 60 % to 70% – are women.

This brings us swiftly to the next point. What percentage of non-English speaking people have worse health compared to English speakers?

A report by the Office for National Statistics suggested that only two-thirds (65%) of people who could not speak English well or at all (‘non-proficient)’ were in good health, compared with nearly 9 in 10 (88%) who could speak English very well or well. This may be due to lower proficiency in English making it difficult for people to access suitable healthcare providers, which may have a longer-term impact on their health and medical conditions.

While this study does not definitely prove language barriers cause the disparity in poor health conditions, it does strengthen the need for hiring qualified and competent medical interpreters, who can help bridge the patient-healthcare providers’ communication gap.

With all this in mind, can you risk relying on your bilingual employees to save the day? To us, it’s a no-brainer: hire a certified medical interpreter.

Where can you find the very best certified medical interpreters?

Language Direct is a great place to start. Why? Read on…

With over 20 years of experience in the translation and interpreting industry, our NHS-approved interpreters provide services in a range of diverse settings including:

• GP appointments
• Hospitals
• Physiotherapy
• Mental health
• Dental offices

All medical interpreters with us have passed a rigorous recruitment process, including reference checks, qualification checks/a skills assessment and DBS checks. In addition, we support each of our interpreters with professional skills development training sessions, which are both language specific and healthcare focused.

What does this mean for our clients?

This provides reassurance that the level of service will always be good for you and your patients. To learn more about how we can help you break down language barriers between you and your patients, visit the Language Direct website today.