Why Medical Interpreting Shouldn’t Be Left to Family Members

There’s no question that interpreting a medical condition correctly is essential for the proper diagnosis and treatment of a patient. No family member wants to see a loved one misdiagnosed or improperly treated.

Without a qualified medical interpreter available, families often resort to using relatives who are fluent or semi-fluent in English to help interpret for their non-English speaking family members. However, there are a number of reasons why family members are not the best choice when it comes to medical interpreting.

1. Medical understanding. There is no substitute for a properly trained and qualified medical interpreter. Professionals that have completed a credible medical interpreting program have knowledge of healthcare terminology and comprehension of medical issues that the average person does not. Correctly interpreting medical information is imperative for the health and well-being of a patient, and mistakes could be at best time-consuming and at worst injurious.

2. Lack of impartiality. There is a reason doctors are generally discouraged from treating or operating on their family members. While they may be qualified, it is virtually impossible for most human beings to extricate themselves emotionally from someone they love. Family members may become emotionally distressed at receiving upsetting medical news and may incorrectly interpret information or become unable to continue interpreting. A qualified medical interpreter can more impartially relate sensitive information, often with better judgment and bedside manner.

3. Impropriety or discomfort with personal issues. Imagine a child having to explain sensitive personal information about a parent or relative of the opposite sex. Honesty between patient and doctor is critical in achieving accurate treatment, but it can be uncomfortable or inappropriate for certain family members to discuss personal medical conditions. Certain cultural beliefs may complicate these issues.

4. Stress on relationships. Many parents or relatives rely on children or other family members as their interpreters. This can place a strain on relationships if taken to extremes. Many children feel undue responsibility for interpreting for their parents, and medical interpreting adds one more level of stress to the relationship. Consulting with a medical interpreting agency and finding a professional medical interpreter can ease the burden on family members and improve relationships.

Medical interpreting is a serious business when the life and welfare of a patient is at stake. In these cases, accurate diagnosis and treatment are absolutely vital and should involve a qualified medical interpreter. A skilled medical interpreter will understand the cultural needs of the individual and be much better able to transmit information.

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