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Using Interpreters in Your Practice

To effectively use an interpreter in your practice there are certain points to remember.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that healthcare practices who receive federal funds provide an interpreter for patients with limited English proficiency. 

To effectively use an interpreter in your practice there are certain points to remember. 

First and foremost, it is not good practice to use a family member or family friend as an interpreter. Using these individuals opens the door to misdiagnosis, misinterpretation, inappropriate treatment and HIPAA violations. 

It is better practice to use a qualified medical interpreter or a staff member who is fluent in the language, dialect and culture of the patient and who understands the dental terminology associated with your treatment.

What should you expect when utilizing an interpreter? 

The visit will now include three parts: an interview with the interpreter prior to the dental visit, the dental visit itself and a post interview with the interpreter.

The dialogue used with an interpreter will follow the form of a triadic interview: the provider, the patient and the interpreter. This is to create an atmosphere of trust and ensure confidentiality.

The interpreter plays three main roles:

  • Conduit for the communication
  • Communication clarifier
  • Cultural adviser

The interpreter:

  • Must interpret everything that is said into a language which is understood by both the patient and the provider
  • Will use first person speech, speaking as if they were the patient

Highlights of the three steps of using an interpreter

Part 1: Initial interview with the interpreter

  • Confirm the interpreter and the patient speak the same language/dialect
  • Ask the interpreter to teach you how to speak the patient’s name correctly
  • Set some ground rules
  • Document the name of the interpreter in the patient’s notes

Part 2: The dental visit

  • Face and speak to the patient (not the interpreter)
  • Speak slowly using plain language
  • Allow time for questions

Part 3: After the dental visit (post interview)

  • Ask the interpreter for feedback on how you can improve future encounters

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides information on the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care. This information can help you learn more on effectively utilizing an interpreter in your practice and cultural and health literacy, along with free continuing education opportunities. 

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