Patient Safety in Other Languages

Patient Safety in Other Languages

[Editor’s note: PPAHS believes in removing as many barriers to communication between clinicians and their patients. With that goal in mind, Louise Taylor discusses how medical interpretation services can be an effective tool to facilitate clinician-patient discussions.]

By Louise Taylor

Patient safety goals should be a primary concern no matter which language you are speaking. As such, you may need the medical interpreting services to make sure important patient instructions are not lost in translation. Below, we’ll cover some of the top ways to make sure you are working with medical interpreting in a way that keeps your patients safe, no matter which languages they may speak. Interpreters in this medical field speak the language of medicine—they are there at points in the patient’s journey from making a medical appointment to outpatient doctor’s visits to clinical consultation to drug diagnoses. They help remove the language barriers between the doctor and the patient.


Map Your Medical Interpreting Needs

The first thing to be clear is which languages you are likely to need. Understanding the demographics of your local area will help with this, as will analyzing your current patient list and your previous experiences where language barriers have been a concern. Knowing in advance which languages you are likely to need can ensure that you use the best service for your needs. 

You’ll also need to understand just what that service entails. What is medical interpretation? Medical interpreting is a specialized interpretation for the medical field. Interpreting often happens in real-time, such as having an interpreter present during a consultation with a patient. The interpreter’s role is a pressurized one, as they have only a split second to find the right phrase and deliver it in the target language. They also have to deal with the emotional side of the work, such as when a doctor delivers bad news to a patient. 

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead regarding when you will need to access the service. While it is much easier to find medical interpretation services than it used to be, since many services are online, planning ahead can avoid last-minute scrambling. Using any old service could put your patient safety at risk.  

One way to have an organized medical interpreting process is to keep track of when appointments are scheduled with patients who don’t speak English. You can plan ahead to have the service ready when they arrive.  

Use a Professional Service 

Your medical interpreter’s level of skills and experience is of the utmost importance. They should be knowledgeable about interpreting best practices and experienced in the role. They should also have patient safety concerns at the forefront of their professional goals and know medical terminology in both languages.  

You can assess a professional service in a number of ways:

  • Look at independent consumer reviews of the service before contacting them.
  • Check the background of the interpreters the agency employs or the individual interpreter that you are thinking of using. How long does it take to become a medical interpreter? Often years. A medical interpreter should have a background that shows they are fluent in the language, such as higher education qualifications, extensive work experience and belonging to a professional organization.
  • Medical interpreting also has industry certifications, where interpreters sit a rigorous test to prove that they are at the top of their field.  

By properly vetting the medical interpreting service you plan to use, you can make sure you’re working with a professional company that values patient safety.

Make Accuracy Your Priority 

It’s important to look into how the service assures and values medical interpreting accuracy. For instance, it’s common for services to have some kind of rotation and break schedule in place for their interpreters, given the mentally demanding nature of the work. If the service has people doing medical interpreting jobs for hours on end without a break, they don’t value either their interpreters’ or patient safety as much as they should.  

Because medical interpreting often happens in real time, where an interpreter must convert spoken language on the fly, it can be very draining; a good service will mandate some kind of brake system or even swap out interpreters to keep them alert.    

Interpreters in this field cover everything from patient diagnoses to doctor-to-patient clinical interactions to setting up medical appointments to specifying instructions and drug interactions. They are the language experts of the medical field. 

Consider Remote Services  

Video and remote working has become the norm since the pandemic. 81% of people want to continue working remotely at least some of the time, while 61% want remote work to become their primary way of working. 

Zoom’s expansion reflects this. The service grew to 300 million users in April 2020. Many of those providing medical interpreting services have been using it. This kind of video remote interpreting is where an interpreter is present in the conversation through video chat. It’s cheaper than having interpreters attend in person. It can be a great solution for getting the best services for your needs, no matter where they are located. 

Understandably, the use of remote interpreters has expanded greatly during the pandemic, making it possible for you to have interpreters present while keeping everyone safe.  

However, to meet your patient safety goals, make sure your technology is up-to-date and you have a fast internet connection. Well-connected video is the key to making sure conversations are well-interpreted and understood with video remote interpreting.  

Louise Taylor is a copywriter with a particular interest in languages, including how they are used across a range of industries.


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