Medical providers matter, too: How buyers can get the most bang for their buck
The language services buyer must be connected with their provider teams to assure that the services they are buying add value to their work. Any time a purchased language service is considered without the effectiveness for the medical care team, the focus is solely on the patient. Language services are not for the patient. These services are for the treatment team in order to help them do their job as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Language services should never make an appointment take significantly longer than an English only appointment. Professional interpreters have specific skills that enable them to improve patient outcomes. Fluency in a second language and in healthcare protocol, memory recall and communication management techniques are all crucial elements for successful interpretation.
What does fluency really mean?
First and foremost is the fluency level of an interpreter. It is vital to understand that claiming to speak a language, other than English, does not immediately signify that such assertions are enough to effectively interpret. The fluency level needs to be native to the point of understanding basic medical terminology. They also have to have enough memory recall skills to keep an encounter moving along at the cadence of each provider.
It is also important to note that oral translation is not interpreting. It is not enough to just know vocabulary. Interpreting means the message maintains its integrity. The intent of all communication is captured and flows seamlessly.
Having a clear accent is also critical. Knowing two languages does not mean someone will be understood in both languages. A clear accent is vital to effective communication. Speaking the words is of no use if the receiver cannot understand what is being said, even if those words are correct on paper.
Idioms are unique to culture and language. Analogies are used to convey feeling and teaching. Understanding the cultural and linguistic differences of healthcare experiences and bridging that understanding cannot happen without native command of two languages.
This isn’t to say that a lesser level of fluency won’t help. Help is all it will offer. Anything may be better than nothing. However, help may only complicate a situation and have negative effects on patient outcomes. The wrong word may be used or even skipped over. Communication is dependent on the understanding of the interpreter. If they make assumptions based on personal experience, the message may be changed inadvertently.
Why does memory recall matter?
Memory recall is the primary skill that leads to efficiency. In order to interpret well you must be able to retain immediate information and readily convert it to another language. It will not be effective if an interpreter has to disrupt the natural conversational flow because it can be very distracting. At the same time if an interpreter is unaware of the importance of memory recall it could cause things to be missed in the interpretation because they cannot remember all that was said. The exactness of the message could be compromised.
If someone is not actively interpreting on a consistent basis, memory recall skills will be more limited. Understanding the cadence of patient encounters and the rhythms of the medical team is the only way to make an encounter efficient and effective. True memory recall skills come from the familiarity of vocabulary and procedures specific to healthcare.
What makes an encounter successful?
Full time healthcare interpreters are the only ones with the ability to manage an encounter effectively. Why? Because they are familiar with aspects of healthcare that occasional interpreters may be unfamiliar with. They may also spend time interpreting in other settings such as business or legal. While their interpreting may be sufficient, it will not be as efficient as interpreters that focus on one area of expertise. As the saying goes, jack of all trades master of none.
This does not mean that these interpreters are incapable of adding more value to healthcare. But it does signify that they are missing opportunities for them. Healthcare needs to understand the tangible and intangible value of language services. It is more than oral translation.
Translation is specific and deliberate to change words from one language to another. The environment is controlled. There are minimal distractions and when you’re stuck on a word or phrase you have time to research the best way to write the intended message.
Interpreting doesn’t give you that luxury. You must be quick on your feet and adjust to a flurry of different dialogues and terms. The constant and immediate adjustments is the human factor in the work interpreters do.
Are you connected?
Language services does not have a defined buyer. Who that person is varies from one organization to another. When considering who to assign this process to, healthcare should choose administrators that are directly connected with providers. This will support their decisions when choosing services that have the greatest return on investment based on user experience.
Administrators need to talk to their providers. Find out what their experiences are. Collect data that measures efficiencies. Finally, healthcare needs to understand that one size does not fit all. There is a time and place for a variety of language service modalities. The quality of interpreting will be the most effective measure to determine the value interpreters add.