Doctors Don’t Want Surprises from Interpreters

Surprises are fun when they happen in the right context, like “Surprise! You won a new car!” In the wrong context, surprises are not at all fun. When it comes to working with healthcare interpreters, there should be no surprises. Surprises are just plain confusing.

Consider this. . .

If Interpreter D always interprets in the first person and Interpreter E always interprets in the third person, and Interpreter F always switches the voice at random during the interpretation, the medical team will be confused.

If Interpreter A uses always uses simultaneous and Interpreter B always uses consecutive and Interpreter C switches at random during the interpretation, the medical team will be confused.

If Interpreter G never sight translates anything and Interpreter H always sight translates everything, and Interpreter I sometimes sight translates some things, the medical team will be confused.

If I am the medical team and on any given day I work with Interpreter A, Interpreter B, Interpreter C, D, E, F, G, H, and Interpreter I in order to care for my patients, I don’t have the time or the patience for surprises from interpreters.

If, on the other hand, my experience with working with a variety of interpreters representing a variety of language pairs is reasonably consistent, then I can focus my efforts on caring for the patient. That is a relief!

If the thought of working with an interpreter brings a sense of relief, and not a sense of anxiety, the medical team is more likely to move from the high-stress state of I have to call an interpreter, to the more peaceful state of I want to call an interpreter.

Let’s start working toward eliminating the surprises and make it easier (and dare I say pleasant) for the medical team to work with the interpreter. A few ways to get started:

  • Learn the protocols of the medical interpreter.
  • Put those protocols into action on the job.
  • Work to build performance consistency among all the interpreters in your hospital, including staff and contract interpreters.
  • Collaborate with department supervisors to monitor performance for consistency.
  • Look for consistency gaps; identify the cause; implement a solution; evaluate for effectiveness; repeat as needed.

Are there challenges and obstacles to these steps? You better believe it. But if we are serious about building relationships with medical teams, we must get beyond the obstacles. When we deliver interpreter services consistently, it will be a lot easier for medical teams to look favorably on working with interpreters. Until then, working with interpreters is a crapshoot, at least from the experience of the medical team.

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Posted on November 14, 2013 .