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What are the benefits and risks of using professionally trained interpreters and bilingual healthcare professionals?

Posted: 14 Nov, 2016   Recommendations: 4   Replies: 5



Thomas Bauer Replied at 10:52 AM, 14 Nov 2016

Do Professional Interpreters Improve Clinical Care for Patients with Limited English Proficiency? A Systematic Review of the Literature conducted by Leah S Karliner, Elizabeth A Jacobs, Alice Hm Chen, and Sunita Mutha suggest that professional interpreters are associated with an overall improvement of care for LEP patients. They appear to decrease communication errors, increase patient comprehension, equalize health care utilization, improve clinical outcomes, and increase satisfaction with communication and clinical services for limited English proficient patients.

For more details please see the attached study

Attached resource:

Abdullahi Sheikh Panelist Replied at 1:34 PM, 14 Nov 2016

In the field of interpreting services the communication is not limited to just understanding word by word of what is being said. Many aspects of bridging the communication include verbal and nonverbal, cultural barriers and nonculture barriers. To facilitate proper communication and stream line understanding the process, it becomes very important that both parties involved in any communication come to a better understanding of what the ultimate goal should be. In the health care industry, the goal is mainly to focus on patient well-being. While professional trained interpreters becomes very critical due bridging the gap. Bilingual health care professionals may become helpful if trained and educated thoroughly with the concept of communication during interpreting services. The risk of using professionally trained interpreters can be mitigated through evaluation and assessments on day to day performance. Interpreters learn every day from their daily experience of interpreting. While this helps to understand the requirements and better serve the community, bilingual health care professionals may lack the privilege of acquiring experience and knowledge on daily bases.

David Fetterolf Panelist Replied at 8:57 AM, 16 Nov 2016

Professional interpreters are incredibly important. I was happy to see Section 1557 stipulate the need for "qualified interpreters". Stratus has put a lot of research into this and we are actually hosting a complimentary webinar on the topic tomorrow. If anyone is interested you can register at this link:

There are some fantastic resources out there on the importance of professional interpretation. This literature review, in particular, is fantastic:

Thomas Bauer Replied at 10:14 AM, 16 Nov 2016

As the role of the medical interpreter has been traditionally limited to the interpretation of words. As this profession continues to develop, I see the role of interpreters to also serve as cultural ambassadors or interpreters. This evolution will help overcome barriers to care and allow for greater understanding. As I have commented in the past, my primary care provider (understanding my culture and values) leveraged this knowledge to connect with me at much deeper level. This resulted in real conversations about options for my care and my eventual sustained loss of 190 pounds.

Kathleen Addison Panelist Replied at 9:53 AM, 18 Nov 2016

Assuming the professional interpreter is not a staff member of the facility, it stands to reason that the biggest risk a healthcare system runs, is putting the fate of their hospital system, and the LEP patients in their care , in the hands of third party interpreter or interpreter services vendor. While we must assume heavy vetting is performed by both customers and service providers, the art of error prevention is an inexact science. To some degree, many organizations and providers need to trust that interpreters and vendors do what they say, and can live up to their claims of quality, bench and standards.

In the same token for providers; what may feel like risk is the same risk we run whenever we put something we care about deeply, in anothers' hands.... In this case, many providers are hesitant to "relinquish control" of a conversation to an 'outsider,' or one that is not directly connected to the patient, or care being provided to them.

However, there are a few very key benefits, which arguably supersede the risks and discomforts:
- Objective, third parties remove the risk of individuals harboring hidden agendas, whether for cultural reasons, or to protect or subvert their loved one
- Using qualified professionals ensures the individual interpreting has a vetted bench of medical knowledge and terminology, friends and family are un-likely to have
- When using Language Service Providers (LSP's) – Accountability and oversight lie with the LSP, not the healthcare system. Major LSP's will have additional contingencies and liability insurance built in to their business model, thereby further alleviating the burden of a hospital system having to take complete ownership of these items.

This Expert Panel is Archived.

This Expert Panel is no longer active as of December 2018. Thanks to those who posted here and made this information available to others visiting the site.