Overview

In the past medical interpretation and translation was performed mostly on an ad hoc basis, calling on whoever was immediately available such as family members or friends, this ran a high risk of inadequate communication as untrained individuals had little understanding of medical concepts or terminology.

In the healthcare sector, miscommunication can cost someone’s life, if a medical professional is unable to understand a patient sufficiently the chances of misdiagnosis and mistreatment increases. A medical interpreter/translator serves as a vital communication bridge between patient and healthcare professional.

Characteristics

The most obvious characteristic a medical interpreter should have is to have a strong medical vocabulary; the interpreter must be able to translate highly specialised terms. Interpreters rely on strong interpersonal and self-management skills in order to facilitate communication while remaining impartial and objective. The health and safety of the patient is directly linked to the interpreter’s ability to communicate.

Another important characteristic is to have complete respect for the privacy of the patient and to remember that such information exchanged between patient and medical professional is completely confidential; this information cannot be disclosed to anyone.

Within the medical profession there are several areas of conflicting ideologies including abortion, contraception, drugs and the right to die; a medical interpreter needs to be very sensitive to these issues and be fully aware of the cultural background of the patient and ensure they do not allow their own views to conflict with the patient.

Responsibilities

Medical interpreters assist during admissions, examinations, consultations and procedures. In addition to interpretation, they will also be involved in translating of written documents. Medical translators are able to translate documents of a medical and pharmaceutical kind such as clinical reports and studies, medical drug trial studies, hospital reports, medical articles, guidelines brochures and software.

Medical Translator vs. Medical Interpreter

Although these words are often used interchangeably there is a specific difference between the two; a medical translator is someone who specialises in translating written documents such as patient records, whereas a medial interpreter is someone who specialises in verbal communication between patient and medical professional.

Importance of using a Trained Interpreter

A variety of medical mistakes can take place because of the errors in interpretation; interpreters that are untrained are far more likely to miscommunicate information that can result in severe implications regarding the treatment outcome. A qualified, experienced and trained interpreter will never miss any vital information; they will convey the exact information without adding their own opinion. An interpreter can increase the quality of care for a patient by decreasing communication errors, increasing patient comprehension and satisfaction and improving clinical outcomes.

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