Medical Interpreter Safety: You’ve Been Exposed!


Remember the patient you interpreted for last week who came to the ER with a broken ankle which required immediate surgery? Turns out the patient has active tuberculosis. No one thought anything of his cough at the time – there were bigger concerns – and it was, after all, cold and flu season. But, while the patient was recovering after surgery, the nursing team questioned the cough, tests were done, and the results were positive.

The hospital has protocols for just this type of situation, but will the hospital’s infection control officer know you were there? Know how to track you down?

So often we talk about documenting the presence of the interpreter for the sake of the provider – compliance and liability. What about documenting interpreter presence for the well-being of the interpreter? You never know what the medical team will discover about a patient’s condition two or three days later. Long after you’ve moved on.

Interpreters, make sure that the medical team documents that you were present. Not just that “an interpreter was present,” but that you were present. This should include whatever information would be necessary for them to be able to track you down.  This might just be “[Insert Name] Hospital Staff Interpreter” or “[Insert Name] Agency Interpreter.”  In all cases, the records keeper for interpreter activities must be able to quickly connect the dots between the patient’s case and the interpreter(s) involved.  

There are lots of opportunities for mishaps in the medical environment. Some of them are obvious to identify and (relatively) easy to mitigate. Others are less obvious and slow to surface. Make sure that you have the documentation and communication systems in place to ensure your well-being after the encounter as well. Interpreters are in short supply as it is. We don’t need to start dropping like flies because the people in charge of these situations didn’t even know you were there.

Want to learn more strategies for personal safety in the healthcare environment? Join us for Rolling With the Punches, and we’ll dig even deeper into navigating the safety hazards in the healthcare facility.

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