Written Translation at Healthcare Interpreting Appointments
By Helen Eby, Tina Peña, Rita Weil
Published by the ATA Interpreters Division in May 2019
Interpreters doing written translations at healthcare appointments has always been controversial. However, the reality is, it is being done on a daily basis. This has been statistically validated by the studies of both the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), previously Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association (MMIA) in 2006 and 2017 and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) in 2016. Preparing professionals for the reality of the industry is difficult when there is no clarity. Do medical interpreters really translate? Why? …
Here is what Interpreters Division Assistant Administrator Lorena Ortiz Schneider had to say about it:
Finally, a well thought out paper that is sure to start a conversation changing the narrative around whether interpreters should also pay attention to developing (or honing) written translation skills.
In my 25 + years as an interpreter in the medical and legal fields, I’ve always had to fill out forms for patients seeking worker’s compensation benefits. These include intake forms with descriptions of the mechanism of injury, levels of pain, physical limitations, and changes in medical status. Why?
- The vast majority of these folks, in my neck of the woods, are usually undereducated, so even if a form happens to be written in their language, they may not possess the reading or writing ability to complete it on their own.
- This is often a source of embarrassment and my role in preserving their dignity has always gone a long way in fostering a relationship of trust.
- Even when forms have been translated, they are frequently of poor quality, thus making it even harder for the LEP to deal with.
- The providers appreciate being able to read the responses written in English.
- The LEP always signs off on the form., which in workers’ comp, constitutes a legal document.
Enter me, the interpreter, who efficiently sight translates the form for the patient, elicits their response, and faithfully renders it into English, so that it is legible and clear when the provider reads it. As the authors recommend, I always read-back my rendition to the patient to ensure I got it right. When I go in to interpret for the provider and patient, the provider asks questions of the patient based on the forms I filed out, which I interpret. Here, my role switches back to interpreting and any discrepancies are usually clarified at that stage.
If you have had a similar experience and are shocked to hear some leaders in the field say one should never fill out forms on behalf of the LEPs you interpret for, read on to find out more about this important topic. I am eager to participate in the conversation this paper is sure to generate and hope to contribute to some best practices surrounding the challenges faced by colleagues who want to improve their written translation skills.
Lorena Ortiz Schneider
Interpreters Division Assistant Administrator