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Medical interpretation is a highly specialized service, in which one or more knowledgeable interpreters convert speech between two languages. For example, when an English-speaking physician asks questions to a French-speaking patient, the medical interpreter will ask the patient in French. They will also convert the patient’s answers into English for the doctor. Interpreting is a demanding skill. Sometimes interpreters work in pairs to be able to convert language faster. Great healthcare interpreters need to be certified. The ramifications of faulty interpretations of medical information can be dire.

Considerations are plentiful when hiring a medical interpreter or translator. Converting written language is a translator’s task. This article covers the importance of medical interpreting, the nature of it and the different means of interpretation, like in-person, telephonic or medical video remote interpreting. We will also detail the training and certification processes that a stellar medical interpreter undergoes.

The Need for Medical Interpretation

According to the US Census Bureau, a growing 21% of the population does not speak English at an advanced level (US Census Bureau). Even compared to legal and high-ticket purchasing situations, it’s more critical that people communicate in their first language in medical situations.

The likelihood that racial and ethnic minorities suffering from chronic conditions will get readmitted to the hospital is higher. Ensuring patients understand their discharge information is crucial. On the HCAHPS survey, patients are asked whether their discharge information was intelligible. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) penalize hospitals receiving federal funding if they have high readmission rates. Language-access programs reduce medical errors and problems stemming from overtreatment, undertreatment and poor communication. Overall, medical problems or delayed recoveries resulting from language discrepancies can affect 9% of the US population (AHRQ).

Propio Language Services accrued its expertise in medical interpretation by conducting medical interpretations for over 31 years. Over 70% of our clients are healthcare entities. We currently serve over 1,500 organizations across the United States in over 350 languages. Beyond that, training experienced medical interpreters to become exceptional at their craft is one of Propio’s fortés.

Circumstances Requiring Medical Interpreting

Since the detriment of medical errors is high, medical interpreters should be summoned for most medical situations requiring patients to report on their symptoms, make decisions or consent. Interpreters should facilitate initial consultations and help collect patient histories. Informed consent and risk-communication situations merit interpretation. Physical exams, procedures and even surgeries need interpreting. Finally, as noted above, interpreters are critical for discharging patients. This information helps patients and families understand how to continue getting healthier instead of backsliding.

Ethics, HIPAA Compliance and Security

Involving a medical interpreter in a medical situation is still ethical and HIPAA compliant. Medical interpreters commit to ethical procedures and HIPAA compliance. Premium language-service companies even hold higher standards than those mandated by law.

Great language companies also have protected operations. They store their data securely. In anticipation of an emergency, they have backup plans to keep operating. Healthcare services are usually in greater demand in a local or national emergency.

Modes of Medical Interpretation in 2022

In a few paragraphs, we’ll go over the specific means by which a medical interpretation can be conducted. Luckily, medical interpretation just experienced a jump in flexibility and accessibility. A survey by CSA research shows that 59% of language-service providers reported higher demand from medical and pharmaceutical fields as well as life science fields during the COVID-19 pandemic. It propelled healthcare providers to accept alternate means of communicating too. Although robust and forward-thinking language providers had already developed remote language service availability, social-distancing measures and increased illness caused providers to choose remote services.

Remote vs. In-Person Interpretation


By offering remote medical translating and interpreting services in different formats such as video conferences and Zoom, phone calls, or through cloud-based applications, language companies have enabled faster and easier access to medical interpreting. Best of all, these services cut client costs! Travel expenses like fuel, tolls and lodging are eliminated. Also, it’s easier to contract medical interpreter services in rural areas, or for rare languages. Conveniently, clients can use any device to access remote interpretation.

The biggest benefit for medical providers is the enhanced flexibility that remote services like medical video remote interpreting offer. Medical professionals often have grid-locked schedules. In fast-paced, erratic environments like hospitals and urgent care centers, these schedules are often subject to change. Remote interpretation allows providers to connect when they have time. They don’t need to (try to) rearrange their schedule in accordance with the availability of an onsite interpreter. Remote interpretation can happen via videoconference or phone call.


In-person interpretation has been the typical arrangement for. . . well, for centuries! Presently, the process begins with the healthcare facility booking an interpreter. On the designated day, the interpreter comes to the medical facility and interprets between the Limited-English-Proficient (LEP) patient and the provider(s). Billing processes are usually taken care of after the visit. Some large facilities, like hospitals, medical schools and residential treatment facilities, hire interpreters to stay on call for that facility.

Four Means of Conducting a Medical Interpretation

Video Remote Interpretation

Video Remote Interpretation (VRI) uses devices such as web cameras, tablets or smartphones to provide spoken language or sign language interpreting via camera. The interpreter remains offsite. The interpreter can facilitate communication in whatever aims the patient needs to accomplish with others. Medical video remote interpreting affords patients and providers the benefits of visual cues like gestures and facial expressions.

Zoom or Remote Meeting Interpretation

This classification of interpretation is similar to VRI, however, an interpreter can join the healthcare entity’s existing meeting. When the provider has staff at multiple healthcare offices or campuses, the interpreter can join their virtual meeting. Or, perhaps the patient has decision-making family members in different locations that require a Zoom call.

Telephonic Interpretation

Medical interpreters can also be reached by phone, which has several advantages. As long as it is not an obsucre language, clients often connect to interpreters quickly. At larger language service companies, a pool of interpreters awaits client calls. Fast access can prevent the need to schedule an interpreter. Physicians, nurses and pharmacists often have busy schedules. In facilities like hospitals, schedules can be erratic. Telephonic interpretation can avoid rescheduling, or the need to schedule at all!

Onsite Interpretation

The Need for Certified Medical Interpreters

Certified medical interpreters are a necessity whenever possible. Neglect, misdiagnoses, improper treatments, unnecessary bodily harm and even death can result from medical communication errors without a qualified interpreter. The ramifications of poor interpretations can be too severe to make do without certified professionals.

Certified medical interpreters have acquired state-mandated certification for their medical expertise in their languages. Since certifications must be updated every few years, they are perpetually learning about new medical terms, procedures and treatments.

Medical Interpreting that Runs on All Cylinders: The Propio Language Services Difference

Comprehensive and Experienced Language Services

Propio Language Services harbors decades of experience in medical, emergency (911), legal and government interpreting. Therefore, it not only has high standards for intense communicative situations, but Propio also helps set standards in the language industry and drives them further.

Propio has secure storage for voice, internet and video material. Redundant infrastructure protects against threats and keeps Propio operating in what other companies deem “emergencies.” In fact, Propio’s services are so comprehensive and widely available that other language companies rely on us.

Propio can conduct medical video remote interpreting on devices operated by iOs or Android. It is also available for PCs and Macs. For remote medical interpretations, our interpreters can join outside of normal business hours.

For telephonic interpretation, Propio has the fastest connection times in the industry. With connections under seven seconds for the rarest languages, there is no need for busy medical professionals to (attempt to) rearrange their schedules according to interpreter availability. Clients can access a telephonic interpreter for a meeting, even with international parties, at any hour. Propio offers filter-based qualification interpreter connect, detailed usage reports, service reviews and full-time, dedicated customer support. For in-person interpreting in the US, Propio has such an expansive reach that interpreters arrive quickly to most areas.

Superior Training

After training thousands of interpreters in a host of languages over 30 years, Propio’s educational and certification processes operate on all cylinders. We require 120 hours of academic medical training & healthcare interpreting ethics training. This amount of training is well above the National Board of Medical Interpreters requirements. Our exit exam gauges whether trainees merit the title of Propio medical interpreter. Only 20% of applicants can pass this exam. Once released into the force, our interpreters are perpetual learners. They continually update their vocabularies according to new medical trends.

Propio Language Services are so robust, thorough and customer-focused that many begin with one medical interpretation and never use another language provider. We proudly partner with hundreds of healthcare entities nationwide to help patients be healthier, happier and thoroughly understood.