Why Your Practice Needs Medical Interpreters

It’s likely happened before – a patient walks into your practice but can’t speak English very well. She may have brought along a family member, maybe a child, to help translate.

That may seem enough to get by, but it’s not ethical and may not be legal.

Instead, your practice needs to have a system so it can access qualified or even certified medical interpreters, not just people who are bilingual, any time they’re needed.

Here are five reasons why:

female doctor advising older female patient in exam room. Doctor showing something on tablet

1. Interpreters are required by law

Medical translation is part of several laws which require healthcare providers to have language access programs, starting with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Most recently, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded on those protections and added that healthcare providers that receive federal assistance must provide language services to people with limited English proficiency (LEP) free of charge.

The law also clarifies that anyone acting as an interpreter must meet minimum requirements, usually excluding ad hoc interpreters such as family members and friends. The law also prohibits children from acting as interpreters except in emergencies.

The law hasn’t been seriously enforced, so few hospitals and providers have set up a language service.

The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) also requires interpreters for people with disabilities, such as those who are deaf or hard of hearing, and has the same restrictions on relying on children to interpret, except in an emergency.

2. Medical Interpreters are needed

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 25 million people (or 8% of the U.S. population) speak English “not very well” and need help navigating programs and services.

And while Spanish and Chinese are the most common languages besides English, did you know there are more than 350 languages spoken in the U.S.?

Without a plan, you may find yourself unprepared and with a patient who speaks an uncommon language. An on-demand interpreting program can help, providing an interpreter by phone or video exactly when you need one.

male doctor and male patient wearing masks and talking in exam room

3. Medical Interpreters reduce the risk of miscommunication

Many non-English speakers count on their family members to translate in the doctor’s office or hospital. But it’s a bad idea.

Family members are not medically trained and may not interpret accurately. They may not understand medical terminology or summarize what a doctor says, allowing room for error and misunderstanding.

It’s also worth noting that family members may add their opinions while translating or may have difficulty relaying bad news, becoming distressed themselves. Or it simply may be awkward and uncomfortable to translate sensitive information. 

That’s why…

4. Interpreters reduce the risk of medical errors

A qualified interpreter can overcome those obstacles. They can provide the information in a professional manner while also acting as a cultural liaison between the medical staff and the patient. Qualified medical interpreters have been assessed for medical skills and trained in HIPAA compliance. They may be certified, but even if they’re not, they should adhere to the National Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice as set by the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. A literature review of the impact of medical interpreters concluded that “use of professional interpreters is associated with improved quality of health care for patients with limited English proficiency.” Because the patient can understand a doctor’s instructions, professional interpreters cut down on communication mistakes and are instrumental in improving clinical outcomes.

5. Finding qualified interpreters is simple, affordable, and you could be reimbursed

By this point, you may be thinking finding qualified medical interpreters can’t be easy. The thing to remember is that they don’t necessarily have to be on-site in the room with you.

A qualified medical interpreter can join you by phone or video and still provide the language access your patient needs.

There are many language services available, but not all are created equal. If you want to implement a language access program in your practice, be sure to look for the following guidelines:

  • Interpreters are medically trained and have medical experience
  • Interpreters are HIPAA-compliant
  • Interpreters are available when you need them

On-demand interpreters should be a part of your program because you may not know when you’ll need them. And when you do need them, time is critical, especially in an emergency.

If you’re concerned about the cost, you could be reimbursed. Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs in at least 14 states and the District of Columbia reimburse providers for the cost of interpreter services.


Language access is a fundamental right for your patients, and your practice can benefit by having a service available and ready when you need it.

Voice Products has partnered with a language service that meets all the guidelines above and can connect you with an interpreter within 30 seconds. You can also schedule a meeting with an interpreter when you know an appointment with an LEP patient is coming up. Our interpreters are available in 250 languages and American Sign Language (ASL).

Contact us to learn how we can help you implement your service at your practice or hospital.



Written by: 
Christina Taylor
Marketing Communications Manager

Our mission at Voice Products is to always exceed customer expectations with an emphasis on total customer satisfaction.
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