The Role of Medical Sign Language Interpreters

Communication barriers in healthcare settings can leave patients feeling unheard or confused about their care. For deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, a lack of the appropriate communications tools, like access to American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, makes it difficult to fully understand diagnoses, procedures, treatment instructions, and more. 

What Is the Role of Medical Sign Language Interpreters?

From initial consultations to informed consent and post-operative care, medical sign language interpreting services serve a vital function to healthcare providers and deaf patients. They provide accurate, complete ASL interpretation to facilitate clear provider-patient dialogue and ensure individuals who are deaf can actively participate in shared decision-making regarding treatment options.

By offering ASL interpretation services, healthcare organizations fulfill their legal and ethical duty to deliver accessible communication under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Affordable Care Act, and related legislation. Beyond baseline legal compliance, skilled video remote interpreters help build patient engagement that improves health outcomes over the long term.

Within seconds, healthcare providers can securely access certified ASL interpreters through a VRI solution, like CLI’s on-demand video platform. This allows deaf patients to communicate fully in their preferred language without relying on written communication.

How Does Medical Sign Language Interpretation Work?

With CLI, accessing medical sign language interpreting services is fast and simple. You can connect with a certified ASL interpreter in just a few steps:

  • Securely log in to CLI’s secure and HIPAA-compliant platform on any device with high-speed internet access, a microphone, and a webcam
  • Input your access code and fill in the requested information
  • Select American Sign Language as your target language
  • Click Connect to be automatically paired with an available medical ASL interpreter within seconds

How Medical Interpreters Ensure Proper Medical Care for Patients Who Are Deaf

CLI’s video remote interpreters provide the context and clarity that patients and providers need to have constructive conversations. This allows patients who are deaf or hard of hearing to take control of their healthcare. By interpreting patient-provider conversations, interpreters help build trusting relationships that encourage continual transparent communication long after appointments.

ASL interpreters match the tone of each participant to provide accurate, impartial interpretations. They make conversations accessible in a culturally sensitive manner. While it is up to providers to create a safe and comfortable space for patients to ask questions, the presence of an ASL interpreter can help assure patients that providers take their concerns seriously. When providers take steps to build a dialogue rather than a one-sided conversation, patients feel better equipped to express their concerns. This thoughtful approach gives patients who are deaf or hard of hearing the tools to weigh options and discuss preferences before agreeing to tests or treatment plans.

Breaking Down and Using Medical Terminology in Sign Language

ASL lacks direct word-for-word equivalents for much of medicine’s extensive and complex vocabulary. Instead, interpreters rely on techniques such as fingerspelling, descriptive signing, and visualizations to convey the meaning of these terms to deaf patients.

For instance, interpreters may sign “heart hurting medicine” while voicing “cardiac medication” to signify prescription drugs that relieve heart pain. Similarly, signing a shooting motion toward veins paired with the spoken term “intravenous infusion” paints a descriptive picture of IV, or intravenous infusion, delivery.

Repeating medical sign vocabulary with consistent visual reinforcement helps cement it into patients’ vocabulary. Over time, natural sign language vocabulary expansion allows deaf patients to recognize and recall important medical terminology critical for managing one’s health.

Integrating Deaf Culture into Healthcare Communication Strategies

Deaf individuals who communicate via American Sign Language represent a distinct cultural community that shares similar lived experiences around sound and speech. Developing an appreciation for sociolinguistic facets unique to Deaf culture helps medical interpreters and healthcare providers avoid assumptions that could negatively impact care.

For instance, English phraseologies common during sensitive discussions like “I’m afraid I have bad news” or “We’d like to run some additional tests” tend to translate poorly. Direct sign language without euphemisms empowers patients with transparent information for collaborative decision-making.

Additionally, facing the patient and speaking clearly supports successful interpretation by allowing lip/face reading supplemental to signs. Recognizing cultural attitudes around eye contact, touch, and gestures prevents misinterpretation of body language. Ultimately, gaining insights into Deaf culture dynamics through dedicated training lays the groundwork for interpreters to enable more meaningful dialogues.

Interpretation Services Enhance Medical Care and Access for Patients Who Are Deaf

At its core, the interpreter role revolves around assisting deaf and hard-of-hearing patients to fully participate in conversations impacting their quality of life. By conveying complex medical information into ASL, CLI’s experienced video remote ASL interpreters enable clearer communication. Patients, in turn, gain confidence in engaging actively in shared decision-making.

Healthcare organizations that integrate interpreters as partners open doors to enhanced community trust and health equity. Prioritizing interpretation-mediated dialogue demonstrates an institutional commitment to the needs of deaf patients. Overcoming communication gaps through compassionate, patient-centered support services boosts outcomes that truly matter — adapting care plans to align with each individual’s informed values and priorities.

Get Started With Certified Languages International

Certified Languages International has set and elevated industry standards around inclusive communication through our American Sign Language and spoken language interpretation services. Our rigorous focus on security, quality, and continuing patient privacy ensures your deaf patients receive only compassionate support from our medically qualified interpreters. Experience firsthand how CLI’s video remote solutions can transform your organization’s approach to accessibility. Let us help you create welcoming, communicatively accessible care environments that give your Deaf community members the respectful understanding they deserve.

Contact us for a free quote and to learn more about how our ASL interpreting services can assist you.


What is an ASL medical interpreter?

An ASL medical interpreter is a professional interpreter who facilitates communication between healthcare providers and deaf or hard-of-hearing patients who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. ASL medical interpreters have specialized training and skills to accurately convey complex medical terminology and information between English and ASL. They enable patients and doctors to communicate effectively during medical appointments, treatment discussions, procedures, and throughout the patient’s course of care.

When is a medical sign language interpreter necessary?

Any healthcare encounter involving a deaf patient legally requires the healthcare entity to use a communication tool, like American Sign Language (ASL) medical interpreters, to effectively communicate with the patient. Medical ASL interpreters are used to communicate test results, procedures, prescriptions, aftercare guidelines, and more.