Posted by: sbilingual | July 13, 2012

National Certification for Medical Interpreters –A Necessary Step for Patient Safety

The US non-English speaking population grew 140% from 1980 through 2010, according to the US Census Bureau . Our laws offer provisions to protect that population, but is our infrastructure ready? Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that any entity receiving federal subsidies is not to discriminate, and Executive Order 13166, the HHS Guidance, and CLAS Standards require a language service plan to provide language assistance to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals. New Joint Commission standards on language access have been instituted. Our legal system already complies by providing certified court and legal interpreters to assist witnesses, plaintiffs or defendants who fall in that category. The objective is to give LEP individuals meaningful access and communication equal to what an English speaking individual would have when seeking services.

Appropriate language services is also a tool to prevent costly malpractice lawsuits, health related loss of revenue, and negative health outcomes, which could include death. In the 21st century, Title VI compliance can be just a phone call or a video monitor away via remote interpreting. Many hospitals already have trained on site interpreters on staff and companies that provide language services for languages in less demand and not serviced by staff interpreters.
The US is world renowned for its medical developments and people come here from around the world for medical treatment, elective surgery, etc. It could be a tourist having an anaphylactic shock or whose child was found unconscious or a non-English speaking citizen seeking care at a health care clinic. Regardless of the situation, a credentialed professional should be considered an essential part of the healthcare team –   critical for the healthcare practitioner to gain  an accurate insight into the patient’s condition.
What is being done in hospitals where life and death situations are an everyday reality? Unqualified individuals or family members are still being called to assist doctors to communicate with patients, and many times children get the job. If the problem is being handled, what seems to be the issue then?
The safety and protection for both healthcare providers and patients is the issue: Is the person called upon to “interpret” schooled enough in his own language to convey the message intended by the doctor? Is that family member really passing the message on, or is he so torn emotionally that he has opted to change it? Neither the doctor nor the patient will be the wiser in either situation.
Interpreting is a profession with standards of practice, competency criteria and codes of ethics. This is necessary to ensure that interpreting in each setting is done in a manner that will enhance the experience of those involved, that the professional assigned to the task is properly trained and has undergone certification by an accredited body, and that the professional interpreter knows the rules of engagement in each situation.
Medical Interpreter Certification is already a reality. After many years of hard work by different groups that share a common goal, two entities now offer medical interpreter certification at the national level. The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreter Certification ( and the National Board for Certification of Medical Interpreters ( offer Medical Interpreter Certification at different levels. Certification requires preparation, and dedicated professionals need to meet recertification criteria in order to keep their certification current. These criteria involve continued training and educational development sessions by approved providers.
A nurse has to have completed schooling and be licensed. A radiologist needs training and licensure. Every member of the health care team must be a trusted professional. A well trained Certified Medical Interpreter  is essential for the provider to communicate with his or her patient in order to insure good healthcare outcomes. The well qualified team work will benefit all parties involved: the certified medical interpreter will facilitate the exchange between provider and patient, not only helping to ensure that the proper healthcare is dispensed but also ensuring proper compliance with Title VI and the new Joint Commission Standards.
The National Board for Certification of Medical interpreters oversees a national certification program with all the elements required to assess minimal competency for safe practice. The National Board Exams include ethics, medical terminology and standards of practice components. It has been developed and validated by an accredited national testing organization and is the result of over two decades of dedication by industry stakeholders. We invite you to learn more about the National Board by visiting our website

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