Laws Requiring Interpreters in Healthcare
Medical interpreters are vital for doctors and patients who do not speak the same language. Not only do they allow the two parties to communicate, but they also ensure that the patient receives the quality care he or she is entitled to in the United States.
That being said, there are still medical and healthcare institutions that do not provide translation or certified medical interpreters, either in person or over the phone, for their patients.
What these institutions may not know is this: if they receive federal funding these services are required. Why?
Civil rights legislation and executive orders in the United States have both outlined laws requiring interpreters in healthcare.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166
The civil rights act is widely known for title VI – outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Access to language services is covered by antidiscrimination laws regarding national origin.
In 2000, antidiscrimination efforts for LEP individuals were further solidified when then President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166. This order mandated laws requiring interpreters in healthcare when institutions were provided with federal funding. It also applies broadly to all agencies receiving federal money.
Access to language amenities is a right in the United States, and individuals cannot be denied services based on the fact that they speak a language other than English.
When it comes to federally funded healthcare and medical institutions, access to medical interpreters and translations of patient documents is required in order to receive government aid. This includes large programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
So if you are a federally funded medical agency without a system in place for LEP patients to receive access to language services, what should you do?
Providing Medical Interpreters and Translation Services
Many healthcare institutions look to bilingual staff or family members of patients in order to comply with laws requiring interpreters in healthcare. However, this is highly discouraged for multiple reasons:
- Staff, unless properly trained, will likely not be aware of cultural barriers to medicine between LEP patients and doctors, they will also not be aware of the ethical standards of interpreting.
- Staff are extremely busy, especially in areas like Emergency Rooms, and may not have the proper amount of time and focus to dedicate to interpreting for LEP patients.
- Bilingual family members may not have a high working level of English, or enough knowledge of the medical field, to properly interpret for other family members.
- Bilingual family members are generally emotionally distressed when accompanying other family members to the hospital; therefore, they will not have the proper focus needed to interpret, and they could withhold information they deem too distressing or too private.
- Bilingual family members have not been trained in the proper form and ethics of interpreting.
There are many other reasons why using untrained individuals as interpreters is not recommended; however, the most immediate and dangerous reason is the risk of misinterpreting vital information related to the patient’s health.
This can not only cost a patient his or her life, but it can also cost the medical or healthcare institution money in reparations.
Therefore, the best choice for all healthcare agencies – especially those funded by the government where access to language services is required – is to employ professional and certified medical interpreters.
This can be done in one of two ways:
- Video Remote / Telephonic Interpretation – video remote and telephonic medical interpretation both occur off-site. In the former, a video screen is set up for the interpreter, patient, and medical staff whereby all parties are able to see and communicate with one another.
This is generally used for ASL interpretation where hand gestures need to be seen.
Telephonic interpreting meanwhile is done entirely over the phone. Usually healthcare facilities will contract services from one agency, and they will be given a number they can dial at any time to connect with an interpreter fluent in the doctor’s and patient’s languages.
While telephonic interpreting is generally a cheaper option compared to on-site medical interpreting, it has received pushback with some patients becoming confused by the use of the telephone.
- On-Site Interpretation – on-site interpretation involves having a professional medical interpreter in the hospital or healthcare office to provide language services for patients. This is both the traditional and generally favored option, as in-person interpreters are able to provide clearer communication and comfort to the patient by being physically present.
It is possible to train bilingual staff to be professional interpreters. In this case, as well as the case when hiring outside interpreters, a uniform training procedure needs to be established.
This will ensure quality and consistency with all interpreters.
Medical Interpreter Training Programs
Whether you’re looking to comply with laws requiring interpreters in healthcare or to become a medical interpreter – you should be looking for a reliable medical interpreter training program.
For both individual and staff interpreter training, you will need to ensure there is structured teaching of a few topics:
- The target language of the patients, as well as important cultural differences
- Medical concepts and vocabulary in both your native and the target languages
- An understanding of how an interpreter performs their work, and the standard of ethics you will need to uphold
All of these areas will be covered by a medical interpreter training program.
When hiring interpreters, you should ensure that they demonstrate the above factors by verifying that they have been trained by a reliable institution, have plenty of experience interpreting, or have medical interpreting certificates showing their knowledge and continued professional practice.
Language Connections offers a 60 hour, seven-week Medical Interpreter Training Course. The course provides training on both the standards and ethics of interpreting, as well as medical vocabulary and concepts in the following languages:
- Haitian Creole
- Mandarin Chinese
- Cantonese Chinese
We also offer a seven week, Advanced Medical Interpreter Training Program for those who already have some experience interpreting.
Laws requiring interpreters in healthcare make one thing certain – a person in the United States should never be denied services based on their language proficiency.
And if you’re a federally funded medical institution, these are laws with which you must comply.
Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional interpreter. Register now for one of our interpreter training programs: Medical Interpreter Training, Legal Interpreter Training or Community & Business Interpreter Training.
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