Interpreting in a healthcare setting

When patients from a different culture are hospitalized, it is important to know what beliefs they might have that could affect the way they will react to a treatment, recommendations and medical advice. Patients can behave and follow medical instructions differently from one culture to another depending on how well they understand the recommendations of health care professionals.

Whenever medical facilities do not have access to bilingual and bicultural trained staff, medical interpreters are excellent alternatives. Being themselves bilingual and bicultural, they know how patients should be addressed and will allow both patients and doctors to have the best possible experience. Their professionalism and their expertise in medical interpreting guarantee that every bit of information will be accurately interpreted and that nobody will be lost in translation.

Knowing more about languages and culture allows more efficiency, better treatments and overall a better experience for patients. Medical organizations value language and culture training for their staff members.

Medical interpreting

Limited English Proficiency

LEP individuals are defined by the Limited English Proficiency Interagency as “individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English” (

Cultural and linguistic awareness is essential for medical staff. It is about respect and professionalism but also about safety. It can be vital when dealing with sick or injured Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients.

As there are more and more patients from different cultures, especially in states with a diverse population such as California, health care professionals have to know how to avoid misunderstandings which could lead to serious consequences.

California law requires continuing education for doctors, including cultural and linguistic training. Medical staff with the same cultural and linguistic training also constitutes a real asset, as training can provide more comfort and knowledge to ensure a better communication with Limited English Proficient patients.

Joint Commission

The Joint Commission is an organization that accredits and certifies hospitals and other health care institutions in the United States. In an effort to improve the health care experience for everyone and to guarantee an optimal communication between health care providers and patients, the Joint Commission ensures that organizations are in compliance with its language requirements.

These requirements include language access for everyone, so that LEP patients can be provided with health services and be given the same attention. The goal of this criterion is to “prevent errors and avoid inaccuracies”, according to the Joint Commission.

In 2010, the Joint Commission published a document called “A Roadmap for Hospitals“, which contains guidelines for hospitals to meet its certification and accreditation standards.

Medical training

The Berkeley Language Institute, Accent on Languages’ sister company, has written a summary of the Joint Commission requirements to help its health care clients better understand how to implement these requirements.

With a pool of over 4,500 linguists, Accent on Languages provides medical interpreting in 120 languages.

The Berkeley Language Institute offers over-the-phone language testing as well as training courses for medical staff and healthcare interpreters. Whether it is done on-site or through videoconference, the comprehensive training covers protocols and ethics, how to improve interpreting skills and cultural sensitivity. A certificate is issued upon completion of each course.