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Interpreting Modes: When to Use Which

Text: Interpreting modes - when to use which

Not all interpreting modes are created equal — in a healthcare setting, this rings especially true.

For the limited-English speaking population, a simple doctor's appointment can become a confusing feat. From making an appointment to receiving a diagnosis, different scenarios require different levels of communication — with all requiring a certain level of empathy, care, and professionalism.

We've compiled a few tips and considerations when it comes time to determine the best interpreting mode to use for your patients: 


Telephone Interpreting

One of the biggest advantages of telephone interpreting is its high availability and ease of use. Generally available on-demand, including during the evenings, late at night, and weekends, telephone interpreting allows access to wide pools of talent, making it easy to find a qualified, experienced interpreter who speaks the primary language of your LEP patients. 

While telephone interpreting is a cost-effective and efficient solution for some patient encounters, it's not a solution for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing or in situations where nonverbal cues are important.

Telephone interpreting is convenient for simple interactions:

  • Appointment scheduling: Telephone interpreting can be used to quickly schedule an appointment and gather pertinent information about the patient and their needs.
  • Patient check-in: A telephone interpreter can help staff get the patient checked in and prepared for their appointment.
  • Medical bill payments: An interpreter can help collect co-pays or payments for medical services as well as answer billing questions.

Additional Considerations

While telephone interpreting can be a cost-saving solution to brief interactions, it shouldn’t go without saying that telephone interpreters are incredibly equipped to handle complex calls and situations. Telephone interpreters have access to glossaries and other resources that on-site interpreters do not. And, if they are unable to handle the call for any reason, there’s the advantage of having the opportunity to immediately transfer the call to another interpreter who is.


Video Remote Interpreting

Video remote interpreting allows a medically qualified interpreter to be in the room virtually with a patient and provider. It combines some of the advantages of on-site interpreting with the convenience of telephone interpreting. It's also a better remote option when working with a patient who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Video remote interpreting works when the interpreter needs to see someone in person, but being in the same location is difficult. Examples include:

  • Geographically remote locations: Video remote interpreting brings medically qualified interpreters to patients and providers in rural communities or remote locations.
  • Urgent medical situations: Hospitals and care facilities can use video remote interpreters when someone arrives at the facility without an appointment, providing interpretation services immediately and giving staff time to arrange an on-site interpreter if necessary.
  • Public health emergencies: COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of video remote interpretation in situations where the number of individuals in a room must be limited. 
  • Deaf and hard of hearing patients: When in-person interpreting isn't possible, video remote interpreting is best for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing.


On-Site Interpreting

On-site interpreting is optimal for some situations because it allows the interpreter to be physically present with the patient and provider.  It can also provide additional value during discussions that involve technical or complex topics, such as a diagnosis and treatment plan.

On-site interpreting is best leveraged when in-person interactions will improve care. For example:

  • Children: Working with children is difficult because they often have short attention spans and may not stay as focused during a video or phone conversation.
  • Cognitively impaired patients: Working with patients with cognitive limitations or impairments can present unique challenges; having someone in person to speak directly to them can help them focus.
  • Visual aids for education: When a provider is using visual aids (charts, physical therapy exercises, etc.) to educate or explain, on-site interpreting is the best method for communicating to the patient accurately.

Though on-site interpreting can be helpful in the aforementioned situations, current COVID precautions (i.e., mask-wearing) may hinder the benefits associated with on-site interpreting. Providers should take these hindrances in mind when scheduling on-site interpreting services. 


The Bottom Line

Determining when to use different interpreting modes isn't a science, but a little foresight and a better understanding of each can remove some of the guesswork. 

One of the most important factors of caring for LEP patients is ensuring an empathetic experience. Receiving healthcare can be stress-inducing and proves even more difficult when language barriers are involved. Maintaining empathy and effectively reducing communication barriers can improve patient outcomes, prevent adverse events, and improve experiences for patients and providers.

No matter what situation arises, your health system should have quick and reliable access to any language support modality. Get in touch to learn how GLOBO can help your health system improve communication with LEP patients -- whenever, wherever.


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