Working with health care interpreters helps to ensure safe, high quality and equitable social and health care outcomes. Professional interpreters facilitate excellent communication to support patient care.
Professional interpreters do not assume the role of other health professionals, provide emotional support to patients, fill out forms on behalf of a client, explain medical terms to clients or interpret for their own relatives or friends. It is important to note that professional interpreters practising in Australia are guided by a professional code of ethics and code of conduct set by professional associations; the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) and the Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association (ASLIA).
Guidelines for Working with Interpreters
Assessing the Need for an Interpreter
- Wherever possible the need for an interpreter should be determined before an appointment and booked in advance.
- Even when a patient appears to have adequate English proficiency, a complex, stressful or unfamiliar situation may affect their ability to communicate effectively and participate completely.
- An interpreter is required if the patient or their family member cannot understand or respond to basic questions; relies on family or friends to communicate; prefers to speak in their own language or requests an interpreter.
- Check for information about spoken or sign language on patient files or referrals.
When Accessing An Interpreter
- It is the responsibility of the health care provider to arrange for an interpreter when the need has been identified or the patient has requested one.
- Ensure the reason and urgency for an interpreter is given to the booking officer, even if this information is not requested. For example, the appointment is to obtain consent for a procedure or urgent booking for a palliative care patient.
- If there are any special requirements, please state them (e.g., particular dialect spoken by the patient, a male or female interpreter is preferred or other special requirements).
- If the health care interpreter service cannot provide an interpreter, ask them what alternative arrangements can be made.
- Plan ahead; book as far ahead as possible. You may need to be flexible with the time of the appointment.
- When booking an interpreter, try to coordinate as many health professionals as may be needed to give or obtain information from the patient. Allow sufficient time for them all. Check with the health care interpreter service before confirming the appointment.
- If you have other difficulties or concerns, please contact the health care interpreter service manager.
Note: Always notify the health care interpreter service of any changes or cancellations of appointments. This will free them to provide another service and prevent inconvenience if they have had to travel to the appointment.