Medical Interpreters Impact Immigrant’s Lives

The Impact of a Professional Medical Interpreter on Immigrant Health Care

Medical Interpretation is not just a convenience for doctors, nurses, and patients – at times interpreters are the only ones who can communicate patient rights and cultural differences in medicine to the appropriate parties.

They are a conduit of understanding, rather than just someone who helps a group of people speak with each other, and thus make a large difference in the lives of patients and health care professionals.

This is particularly true for immigrants in the United States who face a few challenges when it comes to accessing medicine and health care:

  • If they are LEPs they have difficulty communicating with health care professionals
  • They do not understand how health care and health services work in the United States
  • They face cultural barriers in terms of what’s considered the proper approach to treatment for certain illnesses

Medical interpretation helps alleviate these concerns by bridging gaps in understanding between patients and medical professionals.

A Professional Medical Interpreter Aids in Clearer Communication

The most obvious difference medical interpretation makes in the lives of immigrant patient’s utilizing it, is the bridge in communication it creates between medical professionals and the patient.

Ensuring that all parties understand each other when discussing diagnoses, treatment options, or other related topics, will aid in a few ways. Most importantly it will increase the comprehension in terms of the doctor’s understanding of the patient’s condition, and the patient’s understanding of treatment instructions, while simultaneously decreasing the chance for damaging and potentially life threatening consequences.

Medical Interpretation Gives Patients the Ability to Learn About Immigrant Health Care Rights

Medical Interpreters There are rights governing medical care for immigrants in the United States. However, many may not be familiar with these rights – and this could complicate medical decisions, and the patient’s willingness to seek out medical treatment in the first place. Some basic rights for immigrants in health care settings include:

  • Hospitals and health care centers are considered “sensitive locations” – this means immigration enforcement actions are limited in these areas by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) agencies.
  • Medical professionals are not obligated to inquire or report on the citizenship status of their patients – it may be requested during an investigation, but it is usually not required. This information can still be refused by the medical professionals if there is no warrant or court order.
  • Patients have the right to remain silent – if an immigration agent questions a patient at any given time in a hospital (as they still have the right to enter the premises and question those present), he or she has the right to remain silent and not answer their questions.

There are many other immigrant health care rights that can also vary by state in terms of medical coverage (more information on the aforementioned can be found using the Health Care Providers and Immigration Enforcement fact sheet). However, the main point is it is unlikely that an immigrant arriving in the United States will know about any of them.

A professional medical interpreter will be able to explain these concepts to immigrant patients in their native language - thus increasing comprehension and understanding on the part of the patients, as well as the probability of those individuals seeking health care in the first place.

Then there are the basic rights of all patients – including access to medical records, the right to make your own choice when it comes to treatment options including refusal, and the right to obtain informed consent among others.

Medical interpreters can help immigrant patients understand these as well.

A Professional Medical Interpreter Helps Health Care Professionals Understand Differences in Approaches to Medicine

Medical Interpreters in a hospital While the language barrier is a large obstacle, the cultural barrier to medicine is equal in size and implications. Western medical practices are often very different from those found around the world – in everything from treatment to interaction between doctors, patients, and family members.

Therefore, being able to speak to a patient through an interpreter is only half of the battle. The other half comes into play when trying to find the best treatment solution – one that helps the patient, while still respecting their cultural beliefs.

What are some differences medical professionals can expect?

  • Patients preferring natural remedies as opposed to pharmaceutical drugs
  • The patient not being aware of the disease or illness in question
  • The importance of family in the patient’s medical decision making
  • The lack of openness between patients and doctors
  • Patients not understanding how to treat chronic diseases
  • Patients underreporting symptoms as they believe they should just be dealt with rather than treated

Doctors in the West may 1) not be aware of these differences, and 2) may not know how to approach them. This can result in patients not following treatment instructions, and medical professionals becoming frustrated when interacting with patients.

A professional medical interpreter can aid both doctors and patients by helping doctors understand why a patient may be resistant to proposed treatment options or disclosure of symptoms. He or she also helps patients understand why a doctor is recommending a certain treatment, and how that can benefit them.

Medical Interpretation is a Right

Not only can a professional medical interpreter help patients understand their rights – access to one is also a right itself. Any federally funded health care institution is required by law to provide patient’s with language access services.

That being said, a professional medical interpreter should be provided whether or not the health care institution is receiving federal funding. The impact interpreters make on the lives of immigrants, as well as the lives of doctors, not only contributes to an increase in effective communication, but just might save a life.

How to Become a Certified Medical Interpreter

Medical Interpreter TrainingOne mark of a good professional interpreter is whether or not he or she is certified. Medical interpreter certificates demonstrate training and experience in the field – indicating their levels as professionals. Utilizing a professional medical interpreter in health care settings is extremely important, as mistranslations and omissions could end up hurting someone.

For those interesting in gaining certification for medical interpreters, it is advised that you have some level of training or experience first. Language Connections offers a 7 week, Medical Interpreter Training Program for individuals looking to train for certification exams.

Our program covers interpreting basics, as well as vocabulary needed to work in the medical industry – in both your native and the target languages.

Professional medical interpreters make large impacts on the lives of those they help – their necessity in health care settings should not be understated, and in fact should be promoted by all.

Get the necessary, in person training in order to become a competent professional medical interpreter. Register now for our upcoming Medical Interpreter Training Program on our website:

See the course schedule here:  Schedule >>>

Contact us for more information:
Phone:(617) 277-1990

author avatar
Yana Fisher

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