Technology and Medical Interpreting: Global Communication Enhances Language Services in Healthcare

Guest post by Kristin Quinlan, CEO, Certified Languages International.

Kristin Quinlan
Kristin Quinlan

It’s no surprise that the communication landscape is evolving. While face-to-face conversation will always be an important form of interaction, individuals are increasingly engaging in dialogue — both personal and professional — with the help of technology (Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc.).

These technologies have influenced new programs in the healthcare industry, and telemedicine has taken flight. Through one-on-one conferencing with doctors, either over-the-phone or via video, programs like Doctor on Demand and AnywhereCare connect patients with doctors in as little as 30 minutes, diagnosing everything from the common cold to sprains.

Technology and the rise in global communication have made their impact on language services in medical facilities as well. With a non-English speaking population that represents 20 percent of the population and has grown 81 percent since 1990, healthcare interpreting — whether it occurs face-to-face, over the phone or via video — is incredibly crucial to ensure accurate patient communication and, ultimately, safe medical practices.

Interpreting in the medical industry is nothing new. Healthcare providers have long brought interpreters into their facilities to bridge conversations with patients who speak a language other than English. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 required medical providers to use interpreters when necessary. With an increasingly diverse population, this policy was reinforced by President Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 in 2000, which sought to improve access to services for people with limited English proficiency.

While the need for interpreting in healthcare is evergreen, the language industry has more services available now than ever before. Medical interpreting has a broader set of options when it comes to communicating.

Face-to-face, the most well-known and traditional form of healthcare interpreting, can often prove challenging, especially with interpreters in such high demand. It is also costly for hospitals to have in-person interpreters for every patient in need.

Many medical facilities default to self-declared bilingual providers and ad hoc interpreters — such as family members, friends and staff — who have not been trained and assessed in medical interpreting. Research demonstrates that the use of unqualified individuals results in increased medical errors, less effective patient-provider communication, poorer follow-up and adherence to clinical instructions, and possible conflicts with patient privacy rights.

The presence of a readily accessible, qualified and affordable language services workforce is necessary for a high-quality medical program. Advancements in technology enable fast, accurate communication with interpreters via remote connection (i.e., phone and video). There are a number of benefits to remote interpreting, ranging from cost savings and quick connection time to language availability and medical certification.

With an over-the-phone or video interpreting connection, the medical provider and patient have access to a professional interpreter almost instantly, often within 10 to 20 seconds. These remote interpreters can easily accommodate a broad spectrum of languages, including those of limited diffusion, i.e., Tajik and Sylheti. Additionally, remote interpreting is generally more cost-effective when compared to hiring an in-person interpreter. By working with an efficient remote interpreting service, the facility will only be paying for the minutes used and nothing more.

Not all remote interpreting providers are created equal. Each uses proprietary software to connect providers and patients with qualified interpreters, and the best companies constantly update their technology to streamline communication through faster language — and facility — identification. As the population becomes increasingly diverse, interpreting providers are continuously adding new languages to meet the needs of their healthcare partners.

Additionally, some remote interpreting companies train individuals who are bilingual to serve as interpreters in a call center. Others leverage a contractor model, which utilizes professional, skills-based interpreters with medical certifications and experience.

When searching for interpreting partners, healthcare facilities should ensure they are assessing a number of qualifiers, including cost per minute, total number of languages, interpreter credentialing, availability and connection times. Each of these factors will determine how efficiently and accurately the provider can serve their patients.

One comment on “Technology and Medical Interpreting: Global Communication Enhances Language Services in Healthcare”

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