Part of a Series on American Sign Language Interpreters: Healthcare Interpreting

William Woods ASL

Communicating effectively between a patient who is deaf and their healthcare provider is essential, considering the serious risks that may occur if the accuracy of information is compromised; a misdiagnosis, misunderstanding of a treatment regimen or another miscommunication has serious implications. This is why certified interpreters are an important part of a healthcare team.

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Standard Practice Paper for Interpreting in Health Care Settings lists several situations in which a healthcare interpreter might find themselves:

  • Taking a patient’s medical history
  • Giving diagnoses
  • Performing medical procedures
  • Explaining treatment planning
  • Explaining medicine prescription and regimen
  • Providing patient education or counseling
  • Describing discharge and follow up plans
  • Admitting to emergency departments/urgent care
  • and others.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is a patient’s right to a certified sign language interpreter. Interpreters can specialize in the field of healthcare to ensure confidentiality and that the correct vocabulary is used.

Many healthcare facilities require contracted interpreters to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects a patient’s privacy. Many facilities ask that interpreters have a signed agreement on file. Adding the use of an interpreter, as well as the interpreter’s information to a patient’s chart is also a way hospitals will keep an interpreter accountable, as well as verify that services were provided. It is important certified interpreters are aware of these laws and how to comply with them.

William Woods University American Sign Language students can learn more about healthcare interpreting in their special topics and in-depth classes. ITP 310 Interpreting in Advanced Settings I covers specialized topic areas sign language students may have never covered before, including medical and mental health interpreting. Students can also clock hours in the field working with specialized medical interpreters, and should talk to their professors or adviser for more information.

According to the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC), an interpretation studies student who feels passionate about healthcare interpreting, in addition to their bachelor’s degree, can pursue “specialized training through workshops, online instruction and mentorship.” Along with certification, the NCIEC recommends “several years of general interpreting experience [to] lay a strong foundation for a specialization in healthcare interpreting.”