Nursing in Practice Autumn 2021 (issue 121) - Page 24


Lost in translation : the value of professional interpreters in practice nursing

When a patient ’ s first language in not English , it is tempting to use a relative or friend as an interpreter . But , as Radhika Holmström explains , this can lead to misunderstandings and even misdiagnoses

When we arrived in England , when I was 16 , I had to do all the interpreting for my family ,’ says Maria ( not her real name ). ‘ My sisters were younger and my parents didn ’ t speak a word of English , so I was the one helping us at appointments . I managed it , but I didn ’ t like it and I did make mistakes . There was a lot of pressure and I always worried I would get something wrong and mess up everything .’

It can be extremely tempting , at community level , to use family , friends or community members to interpret for patients . Often , it ’ s what the patients themselves assume will be needed and they may even feel more at ease with people they know . But in practice it can result in errors , including misunderstandings and even misdiagnoses .
The language barrier Strictly speaking , there is a clear difference between translating and interpreting . Translation applies to written material , which in this case includes information such as patient leaflets , website copy , guidance about treatments and so on . Sometimes more personal information needs to be translated – for example , a patient ’ s medical notes and any documents they bring with them about their health and / or any medication they have been taking .
Interpreting refers to the spoken word – the verbal exchange between people that happens in any consultation
Using friends or family is not good practice : there are too many personal , cultural and medical issues involved or nursing visit . This can be problematic for many healthcare professionals , because it has to be ‘ live ’ and tailored to the particular person . It can be done by bringing in an interpreter to work in a face-to-face setting , or through a phone service , video link or Skype / Zoom call . Over the past year , a number of web-based interpreting solutions have started being used , including enhanced ‘ Zoom-plus ’ and Remote Interpreter , among others .
In practice , however , getting hold of interpreters can be problematic for nurses who are working outside hospitals . Booking a professional interpreter is expensive and arranging convenient timings can also be an issue . Phone-based services bring the same problems .
The other possibilities are bilingual nurses , or falling back on family and friends . So what are the drawbacks of the non-professional options ?
A specialised skill Interpretation by family and friends is not considered to be good practice as there are just too many personal , cultural and medical issues involved . The official guidance on the topic states that ‘ patients should always be offered a registered interpreter ’. Quite apart from the question of the patient ’ s right to privacy , healthcare interpreting is a specialised skill for good reason , explains Kavita Parmar , of translation and interpreting provider Word360 . ‘ Even with the nursinginpractice . com Autumn 2021