How to Create Collaborative Healthcare Interpreter Teams


So far we’ve talked about why a good work environment is important and discussed the first step, Collaboration. Theory is great, but actions are better. Let’s go over some ways you can build this kind of workplace for your team of healthcare interpreters.

Create opportunities for interpreters to talk with one another. 

If you choose to do this, it is important to lay out ground rules about what is and isn’t allowed. You can create opportunities for collaboration without violating any HIPAA regulations or confidentiality mandates. This isn’t a gossip session about providers, patients or other interpreters. You don’t want your efforts to create friction within your team. 

So what do you talk about?  Anything really.  

It might be sharing techniques on interpreting appointments with seven family members in a small exam room. It might be about ways to establish rapport when challenged by a patient’s English-speaking family member. It might even be a discussion around the vocabulary of different cuts of meat. (Diet and nutrition topics can be a real challenge sometimes!)  

Maybe the interpreter team is struggling with the death of a patient that they had worked with for a long time. Or maybe it was a gruesome attack that came into the ER.  It might even be about challenges when working with the medical team.

Hopefully your team will have some positive experiences to share too. Maybe they were impacted by a family that just welcomed a new baby into the world. Maybe they were inspired when a patient made a breakthrough during that day’s physical therapy appointment. Maybe they were uplifted by a physician’s comment about how interpreters really enhance his practice.

There are so many situations that could be discussed. Having a safe and constructive place to talk about all these things will go a long way to creating a supportive and collaborative environment for your interpreter team. This discovery is the great thing about collaboration.

How do you make this happen?

Interpreters are always on the go.  It’s very rare that you can gather everyone on your team together at the same time.  But you need to make this a priority.  It needs to be a part of your day-to-day operations.  

Here are four things you can do to foster a collaborative environment:

  1. Make their team room a comfortable place to be.  Consider decor, seating and location.  Everyone needs a break from running and having a room on site will be a welcomed perk.  Something as simple as a round or oval table can be a natural way to support communication within the team.  For interpreters on the go, providing snacks is a great way to keep their mind fresh on a busy day. 
  2. Introduce everyone.  You know your team but they might not know each other.  You can take their picture and hang it on the wall.  We’ve done this with a small introduction to each person.  It’s a great way to find people that share common interests, learn interesting facts about each other, and to simply learn the names of people on their team.  You might want to have a place where everyone can meet.  
  3. Social media.  Find a site where you can create a private group that can be used only by your team.  We use this kind of tool as a way to keep everyone updated.  It’s a great way to ask questions, communicate new policies and generate discussions while people are on the go.  Interpreters can use this between appointments, in the office or at home.  It’s convenient and easily accessible from any electronic device. 
  4. Staff meetings.  Everyone should be required to participate.  A great way to get face-to-face time is to hold a regular meeting to discuss what’s happening.  You can share ideas, discuss challenges and gather ideas to make things better.  You’ll get feedback from the field that you can use to make your services better.You may have to be flexible with the time you hold the meeting.  It might have to be outside of regular working hours.  If you have shifts, you may have to hold a few staff meetings to make sure you connect with everyone.  

These are just a few ideas on how you can build a work environment where interpreters feel they matter. 

How are you building a collaborative environment for your team of healthcare interpreters?

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Posted on February 26, 2015 and filed under Manager.