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The Value of Qualified Medical Interpreters vs. Bilingual Staff

January 11, 2023   -   Posted by GLOBO
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While it may seem like a good cost-effective solution, having bilingual staff interpret for patients is less than ideal.

Providing language access to patients with limited-English proficiency (LEP) is essential in the healthcare industry. It helps medical professionals provide accurate diagnoses and improved care. However, healthcare facilities often have limited access to qualified medical interpreters, so they rely on bilingual staff. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published a 2017 report showing that over 40% of healthcare providers depended on bilingual staff to communicate with LEP patients.

Aside from the fact that medical staff likely have numerous other responsibilities to attend to, relying on bilingual staff for language services can result in inaccurate interpretations. Keep reading to learn why.

1. Professional Knowledge of Medical Terminology

Of course, bilingual medical staff have extensive knowledge of healthcare vocabulary and jargon. However, they likely learned all that specialized terminology in one language — usually English. Even if they are completely fluent in another language, they might struggle to interpret complex medical ideas. 

Imagine an engineer with 20 years of industry experience being suddenly expected to work in a hospital and understand medical jargon. This drastic change in vocabulary — even in the same language — can result in a type of culture shock and a huge learning curve. 

The same can happen when expecting a bilingual staff member to unexpectedly take on the role of interpreter. Not only will their medical vocabulary be quite limited in the other language, but it's also not their expected role.

2. Interpreters Are Trained Professionals

Interpreters — especially qualified medical interpreters — typically have extensive training and interpreting experience, and many have a higher education degree. 

They are trained to understand more than just spoken words. Professional interpreters must identify cultural influences, body language, idioms, and humor. They need to immediately decipher contextual hints and language subtleties and then find the most accurate way to present that information in the target language. 

This process is not only challenging but fast-paced. While translating the written word provides some time to think about the best phrasing or research synonyms and idioms, interpreting happens within seconds. Interpreters have to listen intently to what someone is saying while simultaneously thinking about how best to say those ideas in the target language. 

Some people may ramble on without leaving time for the interpreter to communicate ideas, which can make remembering and accurately translating all the information difficult. On the other hand, people may stop ideas mid-sentence or communicate half-thought-out concepts. 

This is all part of natural conversation, but interpreting these ebbs and flows of dialogue takes time to master. Thankfully, qualified medical interpreters have those years of training to take the responsibility off of your bilingual staff.

3. Interpreting Is Not the Same as Conversing

Having a conversation is a two-way street. Both parties are immersed in the topic, focused on what the other person is saying and how they will respond. 

Being able to do this in two languages is a great feat. However, just because someone can converse fluently in multiple languages does not mean they can interpret those conversations. 

Interpreting requires the person to take a back seat to the conversation, remove bias, and focus exclusively on providing the most accurate interpretation possible. Professional interpreters must also switch between the two languages automatically without becoming confused or mixing up languages — which is much more difficult than it may sound.

Bilingual individuals typically have a time and place for each language. They know when to use each language and with whom. In a way, these languages are compartmentalized and categorized in the brain. 

However, interpreting takes bilingualism to the next level. As professor Narly Golestani puts it, "Interpretation goes one step beyond [bilingualism] because the two languages are active simultaneously...the brain regions involved go to an extremely high level, beyond language."

Going Beyond Language

When you need medical language services, you need access to the best of the best — the individuals that can go beyond language to provide you with accurate interpretation. With GLOBO, you can connect with qualified medical interpreters on demand. Schedule a demo today to see how our platform can provide you with the language services you need.

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