Using a remote interpreter is not necessarily an intuitive process. Communicating with an interpreter who is not in the same room as you can be intimidating, especially when you have to rely on technology to do so.
But much like the shifting views on remote work, options like video remote interpreting (VRI) are finding their footing in healthcare, the court system, and even at the beach. More and more people are embracing these tools as really effective and easy to use. In addition, it’s reported that VRI results in the same patient satisfaction as in-person interpreting. And higher levels of patient satisfaction were reported for trained telephone interpreters than for in-person interpreters — which is pretty reassuring.
Whether you’ve used remote interpreters for many years or are just beginning to lean on them to communicate with your non-English-speaking patients, these 7 tips will help you feel more prepared and confident.
1. Check the equipment before each session
Before you start an interpreting session, do a quick check to confirm your device (whether you’re using a phone, computer, or tablet) works properly. Make sure to position it in such a way that both you and the patient can speak directly into it.
Be mindful of where you’re setting the device — for instance, don’t place it next to a loud machine. Once the interpreter connects, establish that all parties can hear (and see, if using VRI) each other without difficulty.
2. Know how to effectively use your equipment
Learn the ins and outs of your equipment, including the platform features for VRI. For example, if your patient needs visual privacy, rather than turning the device towards the wall (which can interfere with audio quality), be ready to switch off the camera and continue speaking directly into the device.
If your patient is connecting remotely via a 3-way video or audio call, familiarize yourself with their process so you can help troubleshoot if needed, such as if they have the ability to turn on and off their own video feed.
3. Get to know interpreter protocol
For instance, interpreters must interpret any and all words they hear, so avoid making comments to the interpreter that you don’t want communicated to the patient.
4. Speaking directly to your patient, not the interpreter
Speak directly to the patient, and avoid talking about the patient in the third person to the interpreter.
Correct: “When did you start experiencing these symptoms?”
Incorrect: “Can you ask her when she started experiencing these symptoms?”
5. Keep your messages concise
Talking in short segments (2 or 3 sentences at a time) helps the interpreter retain and relay the conversation accurately and completely.
Wait for the interpreter to finish talking before you begin again to make sure the interpreter catches everything you say. It’s also good to define acronyms and avoid any slang and jargon that might not translate easily across languages.
6. Speak clearly and avoid talking too quickly
Enunciating your words goes a long way toward making sure the interpreter can readily follow and convey the conversation. And for all you fast talkers out there, remember that pacing is your (interpreter’s) friend! Slowing down to a regular tempo will assist the interpreter.
7. Remember: The interpreter is not there to push an agenda
The interpreter is there to facilitate your conversation as a neutral third party — not to intervene, add or omit information, or interject their own opinions. While they are an integral part of the care delivery team, they serve as a meaningful communication bridge between healthcare staff and patients.
More than anything, be patient in these sessions — with yourself and the format. It’s crucial to use an interpreter with non-English-speaking patients, but it can feel a little awkward at first and requires more time than a language-concordant encounter. The interpreter might need to ask for clarification at times to ensure accurate communication and that your patient thoroughly understands.
Working with a professional interpreter will ultimately lead to a more gratifying experience for everyone involved. As stressful as medical appointments can be for any patient (especially if they’re conducted in a language the patient doesn’t speak fluently), using a skilled interpreter with cultural competency can make all the difference in the world.