How to Establish a Medical Interpretation Program

Clearing Up Misconceptions about Medical Interpretation

Last week, we talked about why it’s so important to hire qualified medical interpreters for your practice or hospital. If you thought that process sounded impractical, difficult, or expensive, we’re about to let you in on a little secret: it doesn’t have to be. There are different ways to approach setting up a medical interpretation program, ranging from difficult and expensive to easy and affordable (we prefer the latter, obviously!). Let’s take a look at what you need to get started, whether your organization is a large hospital or a small clinic.

When many people think about medical interpretation, they assume that an interpreter is on site, acting as a communication conduit between doctor and patient. This scenario is, of course, ideal—it’s easier to interpret in person, but it’s also very impractical. For less common languages, an interpreter may have to travel long distances for a five-minute conversation—and they must be paid for their travel time, mileage, and typically a minimum of two hours on site, regardless of how long the session takes. Scheduling patients becomes more difficult, since the interpreter’s schedule must be factored in, and the whole process becomes very expensive and logistically troublesome.

These days, there are much easier ways to offer medical interpretation: by phone or video chat. Instead of paying for travel time, mileage, and minimum hours, medical facilities can just pay for the minutes they use, and contact a qualified medical interpreter right away, 24/7. Using telephonic interpretation, it’s easy to set up a medical interpretation program. Here’s how:

1. Assess Your Needs

Since the Affordable Care Act was introduced, more patients are becoming aware of their rights to have a trained interpreter work with them during their appointments. Depending on your area’s level of diversity, you may find yourself in need of an interpreter on a daily basis, or more infrequently. Do you need an interpreter on staff for more common languages, such as Spanish? You can meet that need with telephonic interpretation, or simply rely on telephone support for all your interpretation—you’ll get help from a qualified interpreter almost immediately.

2. Choose an Interpretation Service

Once you know what your need is for interpretation services, it’s time to find the right interpreting service. If you’re going for telephonic interpretation, it’s important to choose a provider with a simple process that will allow you to dial in 24/7 and reach only interpreters trained in medical interpretation. Quality services will allow you to place these filters, and usually offer a fair rate per minute. Providers will dial the number, request an interpreter, and have you connected in seconds.

3. Create Your Policies

Without a written policy, there’s a major risk for staff to fall back on old tactics—using family members for interpretation, or getting a bilingual staff member to interpret for them. This route has many risks, as we discussed last week, and should be avoided if at all possible. That’s why it’s important to figure out how you will handle interpretation services and write it down—what the procedure should be, and whom to reach out to in case of questions or issues. This can be updated if needed, but it’s important to start with a baseline policy staff can refer to.

4. Train Your Providers

It’s hard to make a change in the way you do things. Make it easier by providing training on the new system for all of your staff members. Most telephonic interpretation services are designed to be simple and user-friendly, so the training process shouldn’t be difficult—but it is necessary!

5. Ensure Access to Literature in Multiple Languages

To support your interpretation services, it’s important to ensure your written patient information is available in the most common languages you encounter. These is a cost-effective way to deliver information to all your patients, and can help make the experience of visiting the doctor more pleasant and helpful for patients. You’ll need to enlist the help of a language service provider to ensure high-quality translations for all your material.

Getting Help with Interpretation and Translation

Now that you know how simple creating an effective translation and interpretation program in your practice can be, it’s time to get started! Start by getting help with interpretation and translation from a reputable translation service that can offer you the turnkey solutions you need.

Want to learn more about how to set up a medical interpretation program?

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