In today’s blog post we’re going to touch on an important figure in hospitals who doesn’t always receive the praise they deserve. 

Sure enough, we’re talking about medical interpreters! We want to tell you about their different roles and some of the problems they have to face in hospital corridors. 

The work of a medical interpreter in a hospital generally consists of two parts: working with patients and more administrative type work. 

Patient-facing work involves accompanying the patient from the moment they arrive at the hospital until they leave, accompanying and interpreting whenever required; they help out with the documentation for a patient’s admission or visit, create their medical record, visit A&E, and even accompany them to tests, etc. 

In terms of the administrative work, it is generally the medical interpreter who manages the paperwork for the patient’s private insurance when they are discharged or finish undergoing tests, or they get in touch with the relevant health authority in the patient’s home country. 

The aim of hospital interpretation, also known as medical escort interpreting, is to facilitate and enable communication between health professionals and the patient and their family. 

As we saw in an earlier post on medical translation, translation and interpretation in the biomedical field call for a highly specialized professional. 

If we centre on the figure of the professional hospital interpreter, as well as demonstrating the semantic and lexical accuracy, impartiality and objectivity characteristic of all interpreting, their work must be conditioned by other factors, such as social elements, whether gender, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level, the standards of the institution and the society in which the interpretation takes place. 

Marta Franco, in her article “La interpretación hospitalaria: realidad, características, aspectos formativos” (Hospital Interpreting: Reality, Features and Formative Aspects), formulates a series of questions to analyse those aspects that all medical interpreters or hospital translators must dominate for the communicative situation they’re going to participate in. 

These questions include: 

· What happens when the escort interpreter and the patient are not the same gender or ethnicity? 

· What if they belong to different socio-economic classes? 

· Do the patient and the hospital’s translation services share the same culture? 

· Are their beliefs aligned or are they conflicting? 

All these factors largely condition the escort interpreters, even though they are occasionally unaware. And they don’t just condition the provider, but also the outcome of their work: the communication between the patient and health professional. 

Generally speaking, there is a clear hierarchical imbalance in all health communication which increases when one of the parties is not able to communicate for themselves and furthermore, conditions the freedom of communication of all those involved. 

The training of all medical interpreters must therefore cover these cultural and communicative questions, as well as other knowledge areas which we mentioned in our earlier post on medical translation. 

Professionalising hospital translation services enables patient care to be improved, which in turn increases confidence in the figure of the professional interpreter and improves the quality of the service. 

The presence and work of interpreters and translators in hospitals in Spain is relatively recent, but they’re becoming more essential by the day. 

Every year, big cities such as Valencia, Seville, Madrid, Bilbao or Barcelona record a huge number of tourists from other countries who mostly speak other languages. In cities such as Malaga and Alicante, sun and beach tourism attracts many people from England, Germany and Eastern Europe. 

In addition to tourists, foreign students also choose these Spanish cities for their exchange programmes. 

It’s also worth highlighting the number of foreigners who visit these cities for work or to attend international conferences, as some cities, such as Seville and Barcelona, are known for hosting a range of international conferences. 

A large number of these tourists and students, regardless of the reason and duration of their trip, will use the Spanish public health system, accessible to anyone with the European Health Insurance Card, or the private health system and its services, which requires you to take out a travel or health insurance policy with overseas cover prior to your trip. 

The public health system in Andalusia, for example, has a platform called “Salud Responde” that is designed for both Spanish national and foreign patients and has a professional telephone interpreting service which can be used by anyone who needs it, both for consultations and in emergencies. 

In private health systems, however, it is up to the directors of the centres or private clinics to decide the type of care foreign patients receive. 

This means that ad hoc interpreters and health service professionals able to communicate in other languages make up the international services in these hospitals, and only very rarely are professional medical interpreters hired on an occasional basis. 

What does this result in? 

An ineffective, inadequate and unprofessional patient care service that can put patients’ health at risk and, of course, jeopardise the user’s experience in the clinic. 

Professionalising translation and interpretation services in hospitals and health systems in general is a safe bet that everyone can benefit from: patients would receive unparalleled care and the entity striving to become more professional would be recognised for the quality of their services. 

For quality services, remember to always opt for the work, knowledge and experience of a professional. Choose Tatutrad and benefit from our professional linguistic solutions.