Why a Professional Medical Interpreter is Essential for Compassionate Health Care

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Interpretation is about more than just converting information from one language to another. In medical interpretations, your language specialist needs to know the industry abbreviations and convert them to the patient’s native language. Not all terms can be interpreted straight across, so your medical interpreter needs the skills and experience to make the proper connections between the languages. 

    Further, a lot of medical interpretation involves bedside manner. Medical procedures can be a terrifying prospect when you can’t effectively communicate with your medical team. Enlisting the help of a trained medical interpretation specialist can ease those fears and create a stable communication bridge. 

    Photo by Igreja Dimensão from Pexels

    Ad-Hoc Agency Interpreter vs. Professional Medical Interpreter 

    The difference between certified and licensed medical interpreters and standard agency or language center interpreters is evident in confidence in managing highly complex medical terminology, explanations, and the conveyance of information. Mistakes in medical interpretation situations can lead to dire, sometimes critical errors that can lead to injury or even death. 

    The importance of accurate and compassionate interpretation can never be understated. The medical treatments prescribed and performed are decided based on interpreting the information between doctors and patient families. If that information is even slightly misinterpreted, it can lead to dangerous, even fatal misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment routes being followed. 

    Interpretation Mistakes Medical Training can Prevent

    Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

    Common Mistakes in Medical Interpretation

    Professionally trained medical interpretation specialists are trained in context, as well as the specific languages. Family members and ad-hoc interpretation agencies lack contextual training to interpret for medical settings correctly. This can lead to a few significant issues in the medical process. 


    Omission errors can only partially be avoided, even by professionally trained medical interpreters. Omission occurs when instructions from the doctor to patients are missed, or the body language is lost over the phone. Over half of our communication in any language takes place in non-verbal cues and body language. This is a significant reason many medical interpreters have shifted to video communication to do their jobs. 


    Substitution occurs when the word doesn’t translate perfectly, so the interpreter finds what they feel is the best match. This often happens when the interpreter lacks the context training for medical industry terms in both languages. Interpretive substitution can cause issues when a similar word is used but doesn’t carry the same meaning from one language to the other. 


    Editorialization is when the opinions of the interpreter are infused into the interpretation. Often this is unintentional, but your medical interpreter must remain neutral in their communications. Accuracy in information is paramount. Almost as important is the interpreter’s ability to avoid interjecting their own opinions, understandings, or thoughts on a topic out of the interpretation. 

    The Differences in Training for Certified Medical Interpreters

    Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy from Pexels

    Standard interpreters are multi-lingual and have a good general knowledge of both languages they work in. Medical language is a beast all its own and can create complexities in the interpretation if you’re not completely fluent with the medical terms in both languages you’re working in. Without medical interpretation-specific training, the average linguist makes at least 30 errors in every interaction. According to a study by Glenn Flores, MD. and associates, upwards of 50% of those errors are omissions because the interpreter doesn’t have the right word in one language or the other. 

    Medical jargon is to blame for most medical interpretation mistakes. Interpreters or linguists lacking the proper training to translate jargon tend to omit or inaccurately rephrase information leading to decisions being made with inadequate information. Certified interpreters go through rigorous testing and literacy training in the most common terms to hear in medical settings. The information is more accurate when the interpreters have a better understanding of the jargon they hear daily. 

    Medical Interpretation Options

    You can contract with interpretation services for a lot of essential services. However, when you’re dealing with more complex interpretation situations, it’s best to work with a professionally trained Medical Interpreter. 

    In-Person Interpretation

    The option of having an interpreter in the room to coordinate the discussion between doctor and patient is the most accurate way of getting medical interpretation. Because the interpreter is present, they can use context and body language to convey more precise information and clarify anything they don’t understand with the doctor in real-time before communicating it. 

    Video Interpretation

    With technology as advanced as it is, we can reduce exposure to both patients and interpreters by providing language services through video chat. This is the second most accurate option because the interpreter can still see most body language and context cues before communicating the translations. 

    Phone Interpretation

    The most basic option that medical teams should use for non-critical interactions such as routine visits and prescription renewals is phone interpretation. Anything more than primary medical visits can create more errors with phone interpretation because you’re more likely to miss non-verbal cues and body language. 

    Up-to-Date Medical Interpreter Database

    It is so important to keep an up-to-date medical interpretation database so that when you need a certified medical interpreter, you can rest assured that you’ll find the right professional for the job. Tolu and her language specialist at Language Connection are certified by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters and ready to serve your medical team and patients today. Contact us to discuss rates and options for our services. 

    Medical interpretation services
    Language Connection Logo
    Echo Mayernik - The Oak Anchor Writing Services

    Echo Mayernik is a busy mom who found her passion in writing content for startups and small businesses. She is passionate about helping up and coming businesses, and offering her own experiences and education to help others. She writes from Portland, OR, and loves the rain of the PNW. Find her at The Oak Anchor for more information, work samples, and more.