Medical Interpreters: Facilitating Communication between Doctor and Patient

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In a recent article in the Boston Globe, the importance of using medical interpreters to facilitate communication between doctor and patient is discussed by Dr. Kiran Gupta.

Gupta argues that the use of interpreters in the medical profession, instead of simply allowing family members to act as interpreters for patients, is essential as they lend meaning to interactions with non-English speaking patients.

The importance of using interpreters in order to facilitate communication between participants who do not share a common language is in itself evident in various sectors. However, the use of interpreters in the medical profession is of the utmost necessity, in order to achieve effective communication between patients and medical professionals, and as a result, in many cases, to save lives.

If a professional interpreter is not used to communicate the needs and responses of both the medical professional and the patient, this lack of understanding results in a number of complications which may arise, such as misdiagnosis of a condition, incorrect prescription of medication or miscommunication of the severity of an issue.

The benefits of using medical interpreters have been explored in one of our previous blogs.
Conversely though, Gupta continues the article to discuss the aid of family members of patients in the hospital examination scenarios. It is argued that, whilst interpreters certainly provide the linguistic gaps in communication, family members of non-English speaking patients are also important contributors.

This argument is illustrated with a few examples of Dr Gupta’s in which family members have provided background information regarding their family member’s hesitation in dealing with healthcare professionals or with certain personality traits that account for said hesitation.

However, the distinction between background information concerning the patient’s personality, and background information concerning the patient’s medical history must be highlighted.

Whilst there is no doubt that any extra information provided in an interpreting scenario can help facilitate the flow of communication, this type of aforementioned anecdotal information is not crucial to ensuring the correct interpretation of words and terms used by both patient and doctor.

Furthermore, in reference to a particular appointment with another non-English speaking patient in which the daughter of a family member was present, Dr. Gupta writes: ‘Although the interpreter was present, Mr. V’s daughter often interjected, talking to both her father and myself, switching back and forth from English to their native language. I could tell that Mr. V was engaged. Rather than smile and nod politely, he leaned forward and asked questions.’

In this instance, the positive effect of using Mr V.’s daughter as a mediator is manifested in the patient’s change of behavior. As a result it can be argued that having a family member present, whilst an interpreter is facilitating communication between the doctor and patient, can be of comfort to the patient and thus can make the patient more open to communicating than s/he might be without said family member.
On the other hand, if the family member accompanying the patient decides to interpret for the doctor and patient, instead of the interpreter, the balance of power could be somewhat compromised, and depending on the situation, the family member acting as interpreter could manipulate the exchanged information in order to appeal to his/her biases.

In conclusion, the article presents reasoned arguments for employing interpreters as well as working with family members to facilitate communication between patients and healthcare professionals who do not share a common language.

However, here at Express Language Solutions, it is our belief that in order to ensure the highest quality of interpreting as well as impartiality of the interpreter, it is essential for healthcare professionals to work with professional interpreters in order to ensure that all information is being interpreted without bias and also with the specialist knowledge that may be required in a medical setting.

What are your opinions on the article?

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