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Why Family Members Don’t Make The Best Interpreters

on-demand interpretation at children's hospital

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Why Family Members Don’t Make the Best Interpreters

Patients are frequently accompanied by a family member, a friend, or a caregiver when they arrive for an appointment or a medical procedure to serve as interpreters. People who accompany a patient provide moral and physical support, an extra set of ears, an advocate, and an ally. And, on occasion, family members and friends serve another purpose: they provide language assistance. While asking a family member to interpret may appear to be the ideal solution – after all, it is free and simple to arrange – doing so maybe not only unethical but also dangerous.

Professional Interpreters Follow A Code of Ethics

The code of ethics of a professional interpreter usually includes tenets stating, among other things, the importance of accuracy. Accuracy requires the ability to interpret everything, whether it is profanity, a silly joke, a critical remark, or a serious diagnosis. Family members, despite their best efforts, do not always correctly interpret what is said. For example, if the patient is critical of medical providers, they may be tempted to soften the message. This limits the patient’s autonomy and silences their voice.

Furthermore, in some cultures, sharing bad news with a patient is frowned upon because it is thought to make the patient depressed and ultimately worse off. As a result, a cancer diagnosis and treatment options may be reduced to “You’re just a little sick, and you’ll get better after taking some pills.”

Professional medical interpreters must complete basic training in order to sit for national certification exams. After becoming certified, interpreters must continue their education. This ensures that healthcare interpreters have a solid understanding of medical terminology in all of their working languages.

Can Family Members Serve as Professional Interpreters?

According to the BMJ, interpreters should be neutral with the patient; however, being a medical interpreter requires extensive training and concrete experience, which family members may lack. Trading complicated medical information with a patient should be simple and straightforward. Having a family member interpret that kind of information is likely to skew any important information that should be communicated or provide misinformation, which could lead to a misdiagnosis.

Although a family member may be used in a medical situation if a healthcare administration determines whether or not they are qualified. As it may increase the likelihood that the interpreter will not interpret medical information as a professional would. According to an update on Section 1557, It is up to the practice administrator to determine whether the family member is qualified to interpret such information.

For More Information, Read This: How The Proposed Changes to Section 1557 Could Affect Your Healthcare Organization

Medical Interpreters Who Wish to Take National Certification Exams Must Complete Basic Training

Interpreters must continue their education after becoming certified. This ensures that healthcare interpreters understand medical terminology in all of the languages in which they work.

Why might this be dangerous?  The patient has the right to be informed about their care and must understand exactly what a particular treatment entails in order to consent to it. Consent, by definition, must be informed and given voluntarily. This may not be the case if a patient agrees to a procedure without receiving all of the information.

Making an accurate diagnosis and ensuring adherence to treatment, from the provider’s perspective, necessitates direct communication with the patient (with certain exceptions related to a patient’s age and mental capacity).

However, this may not be possible if a physician is relying on someone else’s words, which may be inaccurate due to a lack of medical vocabulary, incorrect assumptions, or even malicious intent (imagine someone who is perpetrating abuse interpreting for their victim).

Final Thoughts

To summarize, there are numerous ethical and legal implications to using Ad HOC interpreters such as family members. It is always best to use professional interpreters who have been trained in all aspects of interpreting in healthcare settings, such as being fluent in medical terminology and maintaining confidentiality, accuracy, and role boundaries, to mitigate these consequences.

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