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Are Medical Offices Required to Provide Medical Interpreters?

Doctors want their patients to remain healthy. One thing they need is to establish good communication with their patients, which can aid them in providing the best treatment.

But in the United States, there is a sizeable population of immigrants who speak various languages other than English. Providing them with medical services presents a significant problem. Many immigrants, particularly the elderly, tend not to seek medical attention because they cannot speak and understand English.

If they do come to visit, it’s vital for the facility to provide medical interpreters, whether on-call or onsite. The law requires medical facilities today, especially those that receive federal funding, to have a language access program for people who do not speak English or suffer from hearing disabilities. The language access program includes medical translation and interpreting.

The law states that interpreting and translation services should be available in the 15 most commonly used languages in the community served by the medical facilities. If you think about it, it is a demanding requirement. Immigrants in some areas speak rare languages. Therefore, it is a challenge to secure a linguist to fill the need.

Are medical doctors required to provide interpreters for their patients?

The answer is yes because there are several laws the cover medical facilities and doctors regarding the provision of medical interpreters for their patients. The laws cover public and private doctors and facilities.

Since it is not every day that patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) visit their doctors, medical interpreters are usually on call, preferably with prior bookings. The patient should make an appointment with the doctor and put in a request for an interpreter. This will give the doctor time to book an interpreter for the visit.

Several laws, like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Executive Order (EO) 13166, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), require medical facilities, doctors and other healthcare providers to implement a language access programs. As of 2019, all 50 states have laws regarding language access to LEP patients and people with hearing difficulties.

Who pays for a medical interpreter if one is required?

This is a recurring question that plagues healthcare providers and healthcare facilities. If the facility provides a medical interpreter and/or medical translator, who will pay for their services?

The rule is explicit. The doctor or the healthcare facility pays for the service, which may be higher than the fee they will collect from the patient. The patient must not hire an interpreter or he/she will pay for the interpreter’s fee personally.

According to the law, the healthcare provider/doctor should pay for the cost of hiring an interpreter. The interpreting cost should be included in the doctor’s business expense. In the case of healthcare facilities, they should add interpreting fees to their overhead expenses.

It is vital for patients to keep in mind that they cannot use their family members and friends to act as their interpreter or translator. The personal and emotional attachment that can prevent relatives and friends from interpreting clearly and objectively is one of the reasons why the previous practice was prohibited. Further, doctor-patient confidentiality will be breached when a relative or friend does the interpretation.

Accomplished medical interpreters sign a No Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which prohibits them to discuss or disclose the discussion of the patient and doctor.

Payment of interpreters

Patient access to a medical interpreter or medical translator is free. According to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Title VI), and the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) at 45 CFR Part 92 (Section 1557), any entity, organization, or facility that receives federal funding, like Medicaid, must provide language access to LEPs who are eligible to receive healthcare services.

These entities, large or small, include community-based organizations, laboratories, mental health facilities, dentists, occupational therapists, primary care organizations, hospitals, and pharmacies. The laws mandate that interpreting services should be timely, secure, and free. Significantly, the medical interpreter that the facility provides must be qualified and certified.

A certified and qualified medical interpreter typically has years of experience in medical interpreting. They are experts in the subject and understand the particular terminology. They can handle not only the patient-doctor confidentiality issues but also the dynamics of family interactions.

Who can be a medical interpreter?

If you are interested to be a medical interpreter, you must be bilingual, meaning you’re proficient in two languages, one of which should be your mother tongue. Likewise, you should be at least 18 years old, and a high school graduate. This is the minimum prerequisite. You must attend a 40-hour medical interpreting course (recommended for a freelance interpreter), but nowadays, many employers require interpreters who completed a 160-hour course (diploma course) as their minimum requirement. However, in the workplace, you can find many medical interpreters with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Many facilities look for certified medical interpreters. To receive certification, two organizations provide certification for medical interpreters: the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). The candidate must enroll in the 40-hour certification program from any of these organizations. After completion of the course, the participant must pass written and oral tests, and language proficiency tests for English and another language.

The certification is valid for four to five years depending on the issuing organization. The translators does not need to take exams to renew their certification. However, they must have proof that they do continuing education

We are ready to provide your healthcare office with qualified and certified medical interpreters.

Here are eTranslation Services, we can help you comply with the government’s language access program for LEPs and people who have a hearing impairment. We have qualified and certified medical interpreters to meet your facility’s requirements. Email us at [email protected] or call us at (800) 882-6058 so that we can discuss your needs further.


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