Interpretation is the art of perceiving, transforming and projecting words, meanings, and the overall essence of a conversation from the source language into the target language. Interpreters are highly skilled individuals who work hard to provide clear communication to individuals who are not able to communicate due to language barriers. According to the United States Census Bureau in 2015, there are approximately 350 different languages spoken in the homes of people across America, many children with immigrant parents grow up learning English as well as the language that their parents speak at home. In 2013, approximately 61.6 million people who are both US and foreign born, spoke languages other than English at home and about 25.1 million of those people were considered as having a limited English proficiency (LEP). The United States is a diverse country with a rapidly growing immigrant population and with so many people coming to America who do not speak English, healthcare facilities are facing communication dilemmas due to language barriers on a regular basis.

More often than one would like to imagine, children and family members are asked to perform the professional skill of interpretation. While these individuals may be proficient in both the source and target languages used in the interpretation, they are not trained in the profession and that can lead to poor patient care, missed information and details, or in extreme cases even death. As a healthcare facility, it is vital to provide appropriate communication techniques that will allow you to comply with the law and provide your LEP patients the best care possible.

Medical Interpreters and Language Laws

A medical interpreter’s job is to facilitate communication between medical professionals and patients due to the presence of a language barrier. This is not a job for just anyone who has the ability to speak two languages, a lot of hard work, dedication and experience goes into becoming a medical interpreter. Many have a degree in a related field and are nationally certified to perform medical interpretations. Along with the education and certification requirements they need many years of experience and continuous lifelong learning. A medical interpreter has to be familiar with medical terminology, illnesses and procedures in order to effectively interpret medical information to LEP patients. Interpreters require a strong understanding of the medical field in order to provide patients with a clear and concise understanding and explanation of the information that is being delivered. Medical providers are required by law to provide LEP patients with medical interpretation services such as on-site interpretation, over the phone interpretation or video remote interpretation (VRI) when requested. The article, “The Affordable Care Act and the Need for a Professional Interpreting Agency,”  reviews the impact of new laws passed under the Affordable Care Act, Section 1557, and their immediate effect on medical providers who are now required to provide quality interpreters and information, free of charge and in a timely manner to better treat LEP patients. Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a language service provider that is dedicated to quality and professionalism to ensure that their clients experience seamless communication when provided with interpreting services. Their network of professional and certified medical interpreters are available for any interpretation service that fits your individual needs.

The Downfalls of Using a Child or Family Member for Medical Interpretation

Often times when a professional medical interpreter is not offered as an option, young children or family members are asked to interpret during medical interactions. This is a less than optimal situation for the patient because there are many negative factors that are associated with using a less than qualified person to perform a medical interpretation. The reasons why people lean towards using an unqualified person to interpret are that the interpretation is free, the majority of the time the person is readily available, and if it is a child or family member who is interpreting, the patient tends to feel more comfortable and at ease with a relative by their side. Communication is the most important tool that doctors use in order to obtain knowledge regarding a patient’s health, symptoms, family history, beliefs and general concerns. It is also how the doctor is able to make patients aware of how to take care of themselves, medications, procedures or lifestyle changes that may need to take place. If that communication is not clear and language barriers are not fully bridged then patient care will be compromised, errors will be made and adverse consequences can be faced due to miscommunication.

The following are the main concerns associated with allowing a child or family member to interpret during Medical Interactions:

  • General Medical Understanding and Knowledge of Medical Terminology:
    A professional medical interpreter will have knowledge of medical procedures, medication, and complex terminology as well as the ability to effectively and precisely interpret the exact meaning of the information being conveyed to the patient. Medical interpreters are trained and able to accurately interpret medical information to patients in a timely manner. If this task is asked of someone who wasn’t trained, they would struggle interpreting complex questions, medical terms as well as being able to deliver an unaltered and accurate interpretation. Children in particular would have difficulty and struggle to find correct terminology regarding subjects such as menstruation, heart disease or respiratory function… Inaccurate interpretations can cause unwanted problems, there is no need to face these language barriers when medical interpreters are just a click away. Children or family members should be used to interpret in emergency situations only, a correct interpretation in a medical setting is a must and without it, you are jeopardizing the well-being and health of your LEP patients and opening yourself to unnecessary liability.
  • It Is Inappropriate and Potentially Harmful to Use a Child or Family Member to Interpret During a Medical Interaction:
    When a child or family member is asked to interpret, it puts stress on relationships and can in some instances cast a heavy and unfair burden on loved ones. This can be a stressful situation if life threatening illnesses are the topic of discussion. Children may not be fully aware of the concept and content of the conversations they are asked to interpret, thus resulting in an inability to provide a relevant interpretation. Family members may withhold information or symptoms if asked to do so by the patient in order to avoid conflicts, they may also have a biased opinion which in turn will lead to a biased interpretation of the patient’s condition. It is hard to cut yourself off emotionally from a person you love and this is what needs to happen during a medical interpretation. There needs to be clear and concise communication and that is just not possible if there is not a professional medical interpreter present to bridge the language gap.

The language and interpretation needs of many diverse migrant populations living in the United States is a growing issue that healthcare facilities are having to face on a day to day basis. Incorporating strategies into your workday that will allow you to face each interaction with an LEP patient with confidence, knowing that communication will not be a topic of concern, is crucial in providing great patient care. Niki’s Int’l Ltd. provides interpretation services such as on-site, telephone and video remote interpretation (VRI) services that will ensure that each medical interaction receives a seamless communication experience. Niki’s Int’l Ltd. will match your needs with the most qualified interpreter for you in the language and dialect that you need to ensure your LEP patients receive the best care possible.

Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a WBENC-Certified Women Business Enterprise with 20 years of language service experience. A global network of highly skilled translators and interpreters are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for on-site, telephonic and video remote interpretation services. Our linguists are available in over 350 languages and dialects, and our network includes certified translators and interpreters. Our work is guaranteed with a $1 Million Errors & Omissions policy, so that you can be confident that your project will be completed with the highest level of quality and professionalism within the field. For more information contact us at 1-877-567-8449 or visit our website at


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