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MU Health Care Interpreter Usage
Interpreter Tips
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Interpreter Tips

Working Effectively with a Medical Interpreter on the Phone

  • Allow the interpreter to greet you and to provide an interpreter ID number.
  • Write the interpreter ID number in the patient's file or progress notes for documentation.
  • Provide the interpreter with a brief explanation of the call.
  • Allow the interpreter to introduce him/herself to the patient.
  • Speak directly to your patient in the first person, just as you would an English-speaking patient.
  • Use short but complete phrases.
  • Avoid slang, jargon or metaphors.
  • Allow the interpreter to clarify linguistic and cultural issues.
  • Remember that everything is repeated and kept confidential.

Tips for Working With On-Site(Face-to-Face) Interpreters

  • Speak directly to your patient, in first person, as if you were speaking to an English speaking patient. This helps build a more direct patient/provider relationship.
  • Use short, but complete phrases. This allows the interpreter to be more accurate in their interpreting. 
  • Avoid slang, jargon or metaphors. (See last point below.)
  • Allow for interpreter to clarify linguistic or cultural issues. Due to linguistic variations from region to region, no interpreter will know every word in the patient's target language. They may also need to clarify a procedure or medical term with provider. If an interpreter is aware of cultural practices that may impact the medical interaction, he/she will transparently share those with the provider.

 Everything will be repeated in the register used by provider and patient, meaning:

  • If you aren't ready for your patient to hear it, don't say it in front of him/her! An interpreter must not add, omit or change anything being said by anyone who is present.
  • If you speak to the patient using a high register (high level of literacy/textbook medical terminology) the interpreter will use the equivalent words in the target language in that same high register.  He/she will not automatically lower the register for the patient, as he/she is not a trained medical provider and might not make the leap from high to low register correctly. When you lower the register so will the interpreter.
  • The use of plain language on the provider's part from the beginning of the encounter should reduce the time lost in a progressive process where the provider starts at a comprehension level beyond that of the patient and then must adjust the register down and start again.

Additional interpreter use tip sheets available
Download and print an additional tip sheets:

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