Warning for family interpreters

by Knockhundred Admin

Imagine being in a foreign hospital, without being able to explain or understand what is wrong with you. Unfortunately, for those who find themselves in a country where they have no grasp of the native language, this is an all too common problem.

It’s for this reason that an Australian hospital is offering it’s own interpreting service, as doctors warn of the dangers of using family members to carry out interpreting. New South Wales is currently the only state that has a government-run interpreter service specifically for healthcare. Director of Health Language Services at South Western Sydney Local Health District, Katina Varelis, provides for a large number of communities. Arabic, Vietnamese and Chinese communities are the most common.

Growing demand

According to the 2011 Census, there are more than three million people in Australia who speak a language other than English, meaning medical interpreters are more important than ever.

Dr Mitchell Smith, of the New South Wales Refugee Health Service, has advised that failing to use professional translators puts patients at real risk. "There are cases, including some that have gone as far as court, that demonstrate that if a friend or relative is used, the accuracy of the interpreting is not as good,” he said.

The biggest risks include:
  • Inaccurate interpretation
  • Poor knowledge of medical terms
  • Withholding or distorting messages
  • Breach of patient confidentiality
  • Incomplete medical history
  • Invalid consent to surgery or treatment

As Varelis points out, medical interpreting can be challenging for even experienced linguists. “Interpreters are human beings like the rest of us, so they do end up in situations that are very difficult or challenging in terms of the news they need to deliver," she said. So is taking the risk worth it? Definitely not.

Knockhundred offers translation and interpreting in over 190 languages. If you need more info, just get in touch.

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