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

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

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 the provider and the patient.

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 you have the privacy of not having an additional person in the room with the provider and the patient.

Cons: If you are performing an exam or a procedure where it would be more appropriate for the interpreter to be able to see the patient, you may have to spend extra time describing the scenario so the interpreter is able to accurately visualize the situation.

Suggested use:

  • Basic patient/family conversations
  • During shift change when needing to talk to a patient
  • During other non-critical conversations
  • When an in-house interpreter is not 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: There may not be as many languages available for VRI, particularly for languages of lesser diffusion, or there could be a longer wait time than there would be to reach an OPI interpreter.

Suggested use:

  • When conveying information resulting in a strong emotional impact on the patient/family
  • For patients who are deaf or hard of hearing and are comfortable communicating via video or if on-site interpreter services are not available
  • 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 came into being. 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 procedures, particularly those that take a significant amount of time.

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 the patient/family
  • When the interpreter will be fully used during the two-hour minimum session length

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