Using Family Members as Interpreters Could Put a Patient at Risk

It is not uncommon for non-English speaking patients to use their family members or friends as “interpreters” during medical emergencies or routine visits.

However, this practice is completely inadvisable for patients and can also prove to be a major liability for medical institutions.

Read more to learn 4 reasons why using family members or friends as informal hospital interpreters can be a potentially dangerous practice.

4 Reasons Why Certified Medical Interpreters are the Best Fit in Medical Settings

1. Certified interpreters possess the expertise to succeed in medical settings

Certified medical interpreters receive their interpreting certification only after thorough training and rigorous testing of their skills. Furthermore, in specialized training courses, such as medical interpreting certification, candidates are trained in medical terminology and vocabulary. Further equipped with the target language expertise, certified medical interpreters are a safe bet for both health institutes and patients alike.

2. Certified interpreters are actually qualified for the job

An important part of the medical interpreter training that certified medical interpreters receive is learning how to interpret a conversation in its entirety. Using family members and friends, while being a convenient solution, is often a dangerously hasty one. While interpreting for the patient, they might make a common mistake oft-associated with people lacking formal interpreting knowledge – failing to interpret word-for-word. Often because a ‘pinch-hitter’ interpreter has a close relationship with the patient, this might lead them to dismiss certain words or sentences as being casual talk.  This will lead them to avoid interpreting this part of the conversation. Small details, however minute, are important knowledge for the doctor.  Such omissions can sometimes be harmful and, at worst case, impede good treatment for the patient.

3. Certified interpreters have excellent communication skills

Family members and friends, no matter how close to the patient, might lack the necessary communication skills to adequately maintain fluid interpretation for long periods of time. On the other hand, interpreters holding medical interpreting certificate are equipped with the stamina and skill to interpret for long periods of time. Furthermore, certified medical interpreters are equipped with the attention to detail required to adjust to and interpret tone changes, cultural body language, and similar aspects of their client’s body language.  A patient’s friend or family member may speak both languages, but only understand the cultural nuances of one!

4. Certified Interpreters have years of practice and experience

One of the biggest advantages of hiring interpreters with medical interpreting certification is their unwavering reliability. Untrained interpreters can fall prey to such human errors as shyness and faltering under pressure or emotional distress. They might not be able to withstand the stress that accompanies high-pressure medical interpreting jobs, especially during medical emergencies. In such situations, certified medical interpreters, ones who have honed their skills over the years during classes and real-world experience, are the safest bet for acquiring resilient, accurate, trustworthy medical interpreting.


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Yana Fisher

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