Medical interpreters

Medical interpreters are a patient’s right

Federal and state law requires assistance for patients with limited English. New national competency standards begin in 2011.

December 27, 2010 By Francesca Lunzer Kritz, Special to The Los Angeles Times

Even people who speak English fluently often find that conversations with healthcare professionals sound like Greek to them. So imagine if you speak only Greek or Spanish or Farsi and want to have, say, an in-depth conversation with an oncologist about the risks and benefits of an aggressive form of chemotherapy.

Until recently, the most likely interpreter in such an encounter would be a family member, often a poor choice because he or she might be reluctant to share bad news or be unfamiliar with medical terminology. But new developments are helping patients with limited English communicate better with their healthcare providers — including a 2-year-old California law that requires health insurers to provide interpreting (oral) and translating (written) services to patients with limited English proficiency, draft standards on how medical interpreting should be conducted in hospitals, two new certification bodies for medical interpreters and the rapidly increasing use of remote interpretation service by phone or video conference.