The first record of a request for a medical interpreter at the MGH was documented by Volunteer Services in the late 1970s. Today, Medical Interpreter Services, which provides interpreters for limited English proficient and deaf and hard-of-hearing patients and their families, interprets in more than 83,000 encounters annually. The department provides services by phone, in person and by video 24/7, 365 days a year, in more than 200 languages.
In celebration of Medical Interpreter Recognition Week –
from Sept. 30 through Oct. 4 – Anabela Nunes, director of MGH Interpreter Services, discusses the important role the department plays within the hospital.
Q: What is new in the Interpreter Services Department?
A: We are proactively and aggressively encouraging our interpreters to become nationally certified by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters. Currently
18 interpreters are certified and seven are on their way to full certification. We also recently transitioned to a new telephonic interpreting vendor. This was part of the plan to continue leveraging technology to make our service more accessible to patients, their families and providers.
Q: In which languages are staff interpreters available?
A: There are 37 MIS staff members who interpret in 10 different languages. In order of volume, the languages are Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, American Sign Language, Haitian Creole, Khmer and French.
Q: What are current challenges for the department?
A: One challenge is education. We need to educate patients that they have a right to this service, that it’s the law and that it is available anytime. Another challenge is raising staff awareness. We need everyone to know that working with an interpreter is a more efficient way to provide safe care of the highest quality. Relying on a patient who comes in with an English-speaking family member is not good enough because untrained interpreters may omit or edit information they feel may be unnecessary or unimportant.
Q: What if a clinician speaks the patient’s language?
A: Interpreters are trained in medical terminology in both languages. Staff members who are not trained should not be using their own limited language skills to communicate with patients about their health care. We have many physicians who went to medical school in their home countries and are trained in the medical terminology in both languages. Those individuals are perfectly capable of communicating with their patients. However, for staff who may have taken two years of Spanish in college – although it is a great and a nice way to make patients feel comfortable – they need to contact an interpreter when they talk about health care.
Q: Do patients request Interpreter Services?
A: Patients do not usually find themselves in a position to advocate for their needs. They are vulnerable and can feel helpless when they come to the hospital and can’t communicate in an effective way. If you are with a patient who seems to have difficulty communicating, isn’t engaged in the conversation or just smiling and nodding without any apparent understanding, call Medical Interpreter Services to be connected with an interpreter.
For more information about Medical Interpreter Services, call 617-726-6966 or visit the website at www.massgeneral.org/interpreters.
Read more articles from the 09/27/13 Hotline issue.