Is Using Family Members As Medical Interpreters Ok?

Is Using Family Members As Medical Interpreters Ok?


Many non-English speaking immigrants who come to the United States rely on their relatives, and even friends, to communicate for them. In many instances this carriers significant risks, as the chances of mis-interpreting are higher with untrained individuals.

It becomes particularly risky in a medical setting, where situations can be personal and emotional, and where the language used is very specific.


Why Is It Inappropriate To Use Family Members To Interpret?

Medical Interpreters in a HospitalIn short, friends and family can do more harm than good. The question has been raised over whether or not using family members as medical interpreters, or other untrained individuals, should be allowed by Doctors and medical during patient visits and emergencies. This question particularly focuses on the use of children.


In California it has gotten to the point where legislation has been introduced to ban health providers from using children at all. The concern centers on the risk of using family members as interpreters ranging from making a life-threatening mistake if the child doesn’t speak English fluently or doesn’t understand medical terminology, to the emotional impact it has on kids.


At times children are force to hear personal details about a parent’s illness or past experiences that is not appropriate for their age or mental wellbeing. On top of this some children are even pulled out of school/important activities to help parents who feel they don’t have any other language options.


Medical Interpreter and a DoctorSimilar issues arise with other family members or close friends who are used as medical interpreters. Real challenges faced when using an untrained individual as a medical interpreter include:


  • Impartiality and emotional investment
  • Lack of medical knowledge
  • Poor understanding of English
  • Exposure to personal and potentially traumatizing issues
  • Risk of omitting vital information for personal or cultural reasons


The occurrence of any one of these can lead to serious medical mistakes.


Bilingual clinicians are sometimes used; however, they also pose threats as they may overestimate their language abilities, or may not speak a dialect of their second language where the same word can have a completely different meaning.


For Some Using Family Members As Medical Interpreters Is “The Only Option”

Medical Interpreter and a PatientEven with the aforementioned risks, some LEP individuals feel that they have no other option than using family members as medical interpreters. This can be due to a lack of knowledge about available language services, or simply the trust one has with close family or friends over an interpreter who happens to be a stranger.

If you’ve ever been put in the situation where you’ve needed to interpret for someone close to you, it can be difficult to say no. While legislation does need to change to protect LEP patients when they go to receive healthcare, in the meantime bilingual individuals can pursue training if they know someone who will need to rely on them.


Medical Interpreter Training Courses

There are many options available for those looking to become medical interpreters – ranging from full degrees through institutions of higher education, to medical interpreter training programs. Interpreter training programs are useful for individuals who can’t commit to the full-time work of a degree (or don’t have a program available to them for other reasons) as they cover interpreting basics and knowledge in a more condensed time period.

Medical Interpreter TrainingLanguage Connections offers a 7 week, Medical Interpreter Course that covers the following:

  • Interpreter roles and skills
  • Interpreter ethics
  • Medical terminology in English and target languages
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Practice interpreting (via role plays) in English and the target language

After completion of this course, students have the option to look for work using our course’s Certificate of Completion, register with the National Board Examination for certification for medical interpreters, or continuing their training with our Advanced Medical Interpreter Training Program.

If you or someone you know is relied upon to interpret vital medical information for friends and family, don’t risk making an error. Enroll in medical interpreter training today to get the knowledge and skills you need to help LEP patients!

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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