How To Properly Utilize A Medical Interpreter

I took four years of Spanish in high school and consider myself to be more-than-conversational in the language, but when it comes to especially emotional topics like discussing abuse or suicidal ideations, I prefer to use a translator to ensure that I word everything appropriately.

One of the residents I’m working with this month provided several tips regarding the proper use of an interpretor at the patient’s bedside.

  1. Remember, you are in charge of the patient encounter and interview. Speak DIRECTLY to the patient instead of to the interpreter.
  2. It’s a good idea to brief the interpreter about what’s going on with the patient (chief complaint, reason for consult, etc.) Imagine translating driving directions for someone in English without knowing the final destination. Having the context and/or goal in mind is relevant and important.
  3. Be mindful of how the translator phrases certain questions. While this is only useful if you understand some of the language, if you find that they are spending more time asking a particular question than is appropriate, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop, say “hold on a second”, and redirect. If you ask “do you have thoughts of hurting yourself” but the translator phrases it as “do you have thoughts of suicide”, these are two completely different questions! Be mindful of this.
  4. Never use a patient’s family member or friends as translator. They are subconsciously biased and may unknowingly modify phrases to portray the patient or question in a certain light.

These tips will ensure that you are able to get the most accurate information in a way that’s comfortable for both the patient and interviewer. 🙂

Related Articles


  1. Excellent tips Rishi! Unfortunately, I will not be able to use them, as I am planning on owning in every language ever spoken. HAHA! 😉


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Try EchoTools - my free, iOS ultrasonography reference application!

Latest Articles