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Features: September/October 2016


International Translation Day is celebrated every year on 30 September.

Interpreting Session

Highlighting this day provides an opportunity to celebrate the work of medical interpreters and other language professionals who help patients, their families and community understand medical care.

In the health care and medical setting, trained health care interpreters improve clinical care, help ensure appropriate utilization, and decrease medical errors. Trained interpreters are part of the medical team and help to assure effective communication between the client and provider, support effective use of time during the clinical encounter, and improve outcomes.

The following video is meant to illustrate some best practices in working with medical interpreters. This short role-play video and subsequent discussion video focus on the importance of providing contextual information to the interpreter. This is called pre-session, pre-conference, or AIDET. AIDET is an acronym that describes the essential components for introduction: Acknowledge the other person, Introduce oneself, state the expected Duration of the encounter, Explain context or provide background information, say Thank you.

The best practice is to have a brief pre-session (30-60 seconds is usually more than sufficient) between the provider and interpreter before walking into the encounter. However, in practice we know that the interpreter often walks into an encounter after the provider and patient have already started communicating, be that in ambulatory, emergency, or in-patient settings. For that reason, we chose to show examples of a pre-session where the physician and interpreter transparently communicate their intentions to the patient before talking about her.  

Visit EthnoMed's Interpreting Pearls: Pre-Session page for a 2nd additional scenario.

In this segment (1:14 min), the physician and patient already know one another. The interpreter introduces himself to the patient. The provider offers some background information to the medical interpreter, providing helpful context for the interpreter. The physician asks the patient’s permission to give the interpreter that information. Also note the interpreter’s use of first-person speech, another expected best practice. In this segment (1:32 min) the same participants discuss their roles and what was happening during the session.  

Interpreters are an essential part of the medical team. Pre-sessions provide crucial information that will help both the clinician and the interpreter to communicate effectively with the patient. In addition to the examples in the videos above, pre-sessions are useful to:

  • Make certain that the right provider is seeing the right patient
  • Verify that the interpreter speaks the correct language/dialect for the patient
  • Help the interpreter know the appropriate tone of voice or mode of communication to use based on the situation
  • Set expectations of how long an encounter will last or how long an interpreter is available
  • Advise both provider and interpreter of any additional concerns before working with the patient

Related Websites:

Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center:
      Best Practices for Communicating Through an Interpreter

National Council on Interpreting in Health Care


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EthnoMed contains information about cultural beliefs, medical issues and related topics pertinent to the health care of immigrants to Seattle or the US, many of whom are refugees fleeing war-torn parts of the world.

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