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.
- First and foremost, you are in charge of the patient encounter and interview. Position yourself in front of the patient with the translator standing off to the side. Speak directly to the patient (making good eye contact) and not to the translator.
- It’s a good idea to brief the interpretor 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.
- 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 he or she is 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.
- Never use a patient’s family member or friends as translator. They are subconsciously biased and typically have agendas to fulfill; consequently, they may unknowingly modify responses to portray the patient in a certain light.