Smiling woman interpreting over phone. Smiling woman interpreting via video. Smiling female using an on-site interpreter.

Interpreting Services: How to Choose the Best Mode of Delivery

We all know that interpreting services are vital to providing the best care for limited English proficient (LEP) patients. Fortunately, there are many kinds of service options available to you.

While cost is a factor in considering the type of interpreting service you decide to use, there are other factors to take under advisement, such as the type and length of the appointment, and what will be the most comfortable and effective for both you and your customer.

We have created some basic guidelines for how to determine the best interpreting modality for your encounter.


Lowest cost: over-the-phone interpreting (OPI)

Smiling female OPI interpreter wearing a yellow shirt and headset

Pros: Beginning with the lowest cost option, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) has many obvious benefits. You have access to the largest pool of languages and interpreters, they are available on demand, and, if you’re in healthcare, there wouldn’t be an additional person in the room with the provider and the patient (i.e., it’s more private).

Cons: It can take longer, especially if you need to explain a lot of information in detail. This is where the visual component of on-site or video interpreting can help. Background noise can cause distraction, and technology issues, like poor sound quality, can be frustration.

Suggested use:

  • Basic customer conversations, including scheduling appointments, customer service interactions
  • For accessing interpreters in languages of lesser diffusion
  • Call center environments
  • During non-critical conversations
  • When an in-house interpreter or bilingual agent isn’t available (for conversations similar to above)


Mid-range cost: video remote interpreting (VRI)

Smiling female VRI interpreter wearing a headset and looking at a computer screen

Pros: Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a great middle ground for when you need the intimacy of an in-person interpreter with the convenience of the telephone. VRI interpreters are available on demand and have the added benefit of being able to see and interact with the patient and provider visually.

Cons: Not as many languages are available for VRI as there are for OPI, particularly for languages of lesser diffusion. There could be a longer wait time than there would be to reach an OPI interpreter. And just like OPI, you’re dealing with technology and the internet, both of which can be fickle.

Suggested use:

  • When conveying information resulting in a strong emotional impact on the customer
  • For customers who are deaf or hard of hearing and are comfortable communicating via video or if on-site interpreter services are not available
  • For ASL in an emergency when you’re waiting for an on-site interpreter to arrive
  • When an in-house interpreter is not available (for conversations similar to above)

Related: Choosing a Video Remote Interpreting Solution: 4 Things to Look For


Highest cost: on-site interpreting

Smiling female provider using  a stethoscope to listen to a child's heartbeat.

Pros: On-site interpreting is the OG of interpreter services. It existed long before telephone or VRI services became popular. It’s great for a range of encounters as it allows the interpreter to engage fully in the environment. It can be the best option for delicate and complicated scenarios, particularly those that take a significant amount of time. On-site interpreting is the gold standard for ASL and many healthcare encounters.

Cons: You may be limited to the number of interpreters on staff, as well as the range of languages available. If you don’t have on-site interpreters, you may have to schedule a contract interpreter who might not be available immediately. On-site interpreters are also the most expensive of the three choices, especially when travel and minimums are in play.

Suggested use:

  • During critical conversations, therapy, procedures, etc., when having an interpreter physically present is important for the type of information shared with your customer
  • For small children
  • For deaf and hard-of-hearing customers who prefer on-site interpretation
  • When the interpreter will be fully used during the two-hour minimum session length

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