Good Book on Interpreting in Healthcare May Have Wrong Title


Connecting Cultures would like to thank Beverly Treumann for contributing this article!

Do you know there is one little 84-page book that presents ethical principles for healthcare interpreters, protocols (what to do before, during and after a session in which you help a provider and patient communicate), and guidance on interpreter roles and interventions?  It has a long title — California Standards for Healthcare Interpreters: Ethical Principles, Protocols, and Guidance on Roles & Intervention.  Download it free here.  As a long-time CHIA member, I sometimes wonder if we picked the wrong title.  Have you overlooked this resource thinking that it is only useful in California?

With this book in hand, readers or workshop attendees are quickly able to find answers to common dilemmas often asked by new interpreters:  

  • What should I do if I realize I made a mistake? For example, I said ‘right hand’ but meant to say ‘left hand.’
  • What should I do if the doctor makes a disrespectful remark to me about the patient?
  • Is it okay to give a patient a ride or to accept a gift from a patient?

Among the appendices in the book is one that provides an ethical decision-making process that starts with a fundamental point that novices and others may tend to skip: determine whether or not there is a problem before considering a course of action.  It may sound like a very simple idea, but it’s always useful to caution people — interpreters included — against trying to “fix” something that may not need fixing.  For example, an interpreter may notice that, despite his or her accuracy and completeness in rendering messages back and forth, two parties are still not understanding each other.  In most instances, an interpreter allows parties to speak for themselves until they understand.  But what if the interpreter sees a dilemma?  What if the interpreter believes that a matter of confusion that is unresolved by the parties themselves could have an impact on a patient’s health and well-being?  What then?  This section further reviews possible actions (and remaining silent is one possible action) that an interpreter may take to resolve an ethical dilemma, and the pros and cons of those actions.

The book was first published in 2002.  Since then, it has been widely studied and adopted by healthcare interpreters, trainers and developers of curricula.  Hospital administrators — at least in California — have made it the basis for policies, including “knowledge of the CHIA Standards” as a hiring requirement in job postings.  The Standards even got the attention of the California legislature.  Regulations related to language assistance programs under the Department of Managed Health Care now require education and training in interpreting ethics, conduct and confidentiality.  The law that went into effect in 2009 reads in part “the Department (of Managed Health Care) will accept plan standards for interpreter ethics, conduct, and confidentiality that adopt and apply, in full, the standards promulgated by the California Healthcare Interpreters Association or the National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare.”

This book — and workshops aimed at presenting its content — is useful not just to new interpreters but to interpreters preparing for certification.  Read it — along with the IMIA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice — in your preparation for the written questions on either national certification exam.

Will you be attending CHIA's 14th Education Conference on March 21-22, 2014? Be sure to attend Beverly's workshop CHIA Standards: Introduction to Interpreting Ethics and Roles in Healthcare and discover even more about this valuable resource for healthcare interpreters in California and beyond!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ms. Beverly Treumann, Program and Quality Assurance Director, Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN) is a Certified Healthcare InterpreterTM (CHI), a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) and holds a State of California Certification in Medical Interpreting (English/Spanish). Ms. Treumann worked ten years as a medical interpreter in both small clinics and large teaching medical centers and four years for a large public health plan teaching a 40-hour course on healthcare interpreting.  In her position with HCIN, Ms. Treumann assists with testing, training, and continuing education (see and the planning of conferences and meetings that benefit interpreters and language access programs at HCIN’s member health care systems.  

She served as President of the California Healthcare Interpreting Association from 2001-2005 and worked closely with the committee members who authored the CHIA Standards.  She is a current member of the CHIA Board, having returned to serve again in 2011.