Consulting with interpreter

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Communicating with patients who do not speak the same language is notoriously difficult and occasionally dangerous.

Use of interpreters can reduce the risk of serious misunderstandings but will not completely obviate such risks. Important points of concern are:

  • Most medical interpreters for ethnic minority languages in the United Kingdom have no formal training, but trained (themselves) on the job.
  • A formal qualification is issued by the Institute of Linguists
  • Some local colleges run courses in public service interpreting
  • Some councils have interpreting services available to General Practitioners and hospital doctors (e.g. Glasgow Interpreting Service)
  • Interpreted consultations last at least twice as long as direct consultations


  1. Use of a list of basic phrases
    • this is limiting
    • always available
  2. Friend/relative translating
    • confidentiality issues
    • often lose subtleties as importance not understood
    • their own preconceptions
  3. Telephone translation
    • expensive - may not be available
    • loss of non verbal communication for translator
    • one off event - difficult to go back and repeat
  4. Member of staff translating
    • holiday language skills are not up to clinical standard
    • understanding of the importance of accurate history taking

See also

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