9 Tips for Interpreting in a Medical Setting

Mar 29, 2022 10:51:00 AM | interpreting 9 Tips for Interpreting in a Medical Setting

Tips for Interpreting in medical offices using phone, video or onsite services plus translating documents

Imagine you are in a doctor's office, wondering and waiting for what the doctor has to say. Now imagine you don't speak the language or can't hear. What must that experience be like for that person? Those emotions are why it is so important to have an interpreter available.
One of the most vulnerable places for most people is in a medical setting. Providing appropriate and effective communication is important so that a person feels comfortable and adequate care is given. Global Interpreting Services always receives lots of questions about what that looks like and what do Doctors or medical facilities have to provide to ensure quality communication?
It doesn’t matter if you are in a small town in Kentucky or a large city in Oklahoma, the mountains of Colorado, or the desert of Arizona…these standards of practice are true.
Here are nine tips to make your office or facility more accessible for Deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind and low-English individuals:
  • Get Interpreter services.
Whether you get an Interpreter in person, by video, or over the phone, this is the best way to communicate with someone who does not speak or hear English. This ensures that you have a non-biased individual with appropriate training and adequate skill level to provide communication.
  • Translate commonly used documents.
If you have documents you distribute regularly you may want to get them translated into the most common languages that you have observed in your office. Global Interpreting Services can provide digital copies and put the documents into a video format for ASL.
  • Keep pen and paper handy for communicating with Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Use a black sharpie for low-vision individuals. This is good when an Interpreter hasn’t arrived yet or when a hospital is between shifts. When writing for low-vision individuals, make sure to print clearly and use the sharpie. Ask the low vision individual how large they would like you to write. Write a word and ask them if it’s large enough. Most often, the low-vision individual will need to hold the paper and move it around to read it. This is acceptable and should be allowed.
  • Write down communication.
Hard of hearing individuals may prefer that you utilize paper and pen as a way of communicating their entire visit if they do not use Sign Language. Reading lips is very difficult and leaves a lot of guesswork involved in its process. 60% of spoken English is formed in the back of the mouth and 40% of spoken language is formed in the front of the mouth. 20% of the 40% made in the front of the mouth is made exactly the same way. At best, 20% of spoken English is discernable on the lips with absolute certainty, if the person speaking is speaking clearly, does not have a beard or mustache, and does not have an accent or speech impairment. This may be unfamiliar to the person trying to read the lips of the person speaking. (A good way to try this is to say “Olive Juice” and “I love you”. Think about the way your lips and mouth move. How do they feel when you say both statements? Feels the same right? But the statements are different!)
  • Label the Call Light
In hospitals, mark the call light for the room with a note indicating the person is Deaf, hard of hearing or low-English. If the person presses the button and their light goes on and someone who is not aware of their status responds verbally over the speaker and receives no response, from the patient due to hearing loss, they may not go into the room. The best action to take is to respond in person to the call light.
  • Communicate to all parties
If the patient has to go to another department for a test or procedure, make sure their communication needs are conveyed. If you are at a Doctor’s office, you may want to assist the patient by informing the office they are going to, and that an Interpreter is needed if you are making an appointment for them.
  • Ensure communication was effective
When the patient is done at your facility and ready to make another appointment, be sure to schedule another Interpreter if they had an Interpreter. Let them know that you are doing so. If they had a video interpreter, phone interpreter, or in-person interpreter, tell them that you will get them an Interpreter the same way again and are putting a request in for them. If, however, you feel that proper communication was not achieved, discuss that with the patient. Tell them you feel that next time you prefer to have a different way of communicating. You need to understand them as much as they need to understand you.
  • Turn on Closed Captioning
Make sure you have captions turned on your televisions. Reception areas have lots of great information on televisions and all they need to do is have the captioning turn to “on” on the television to make your reception area accessible to the Deaf and hard of hearing.
Contact companies that provide resources for your reception area and see if they have resources in other languages that you can have available for common languages you see in your office.
Global Interpreting Services can provide you with a telephone number, specific to your facility that is interpreted so that low English users are able to call in and speak directly to your staff.
While some accommodations may seem costly, others are very simple. There are various laws that pertain to accommodations in medical settings. Overall, it’s best to just think of accommodations as a cost of doing business. Talk to your tax preparer and look for tax incentives or other ways to save on your tax obligations by meeting ADA or Civil Rights Title VI requirements. (As these requirements change constantly, it's best to consult with your tax professional.)
These are just a few of the ways you make a person who is Deaf, hard of hearing, low vision or low English feel accommodated and comfortable in your facility or office. Helping them feel comfortable will allow communication to flow more easily and treatment will be better facilitated.
Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan