Interpreter Services Interpreter Services

Frequently Asked Questions for Professionals

One of the core functions when delivering health care is ensuring that out patients understand the care that they are receiving.

To Book an Interpreter please call: 9515 0030

This number is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Frequently Asked Questions for Health Care Providers

What information do I need when making a booking?

  • Language required.

Please be as specific as possible. For example, request Mandarin and not Chinese. Country of birth is not adequate information as many countries have more than one language in use.
To check languages please refer to the Languages of the World resource at the NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service.

  • Date and time of appointment
  • Length of appointment.
  • Name and contact number of the health care provider.
  • Location of interview/name of service or clinic and exact address.
  • Purpose of interview (e.g. consent for procedure, crisis situation or follow up?).
  • Preferred gender of interpreter (although, please note that it is not always possible to provide the preferred gender).
  • Patient's MRN or name, date of birth and address.
  • Health professional's name.
  • If the appointment is urgent, state the urgency (urgent calls are prioritised).

Please be prepared to negotiate on available times. An interpreter may not be immediately available.

In what situations do I need to call an interpreter?

The NSW Standard Procedure for the Use of Health Care Interpreters provides detailed information about using interpreters and the situations in which they should be used.

It is essential that interpreters are present in the following situations:

  • Admission
  • Medical histories, assessment and treatment plans
  • Medical instructions
  • Consent for surgery, treatments and/or research
  • Pre and post-operative instructions
  • Psychiatric assessment and treatment
  • Counselling
  • Psychological assessment
  • Discharge procedures including instructions, medications, and information about community resources Speech therapy
  • Assessment and treatment regarding sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse
  • Terminal illness/bereavement counselling
  • Explanation of medication
  • Mental Health Review Tribunals and magistrate hearings.

How can I tell if my patient/client needs an interpreter?

In general, if the patient/client is from a non-English speaking background or is deaf:

  • Check if there is an 'interpreter needed' sticker on the patient/client's file. Try to check before the interview/discussion if possible.
  • If a sticker is not present, always ask if the patient/client needs an interpreter. Stress that the interpreter service is free and confidential.
  • Be sure your patient has the vocabulary required in a health care situation. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer to test comprehension and their ability to speak English.
  • If you experience difficulties in understanding the patient/client's response, call an interpreter.
  • If the patient/client's response is inappropriate or you have any doubt about the patient/client's level of understanding, call an interpreter.

One of the core functions of the health system is the provision of information that is sensitive to language and culture and individual differences. Communicating care is as important as delivering care. Remember these points before deciding that an interpreter is not required:

  • To express our innermost feelings, hopes, fears and aspirations most of us need to use words.
  • Learning another language, including English, is difficult.
  • Illness and seeking treatment creates stress which can inhibit understanding and ability to communicate.
  • A professional health care interpreter will have competencies both in English and their other language, including an understanding of medical terminology.
  • When professional health care interpreters are used both patient/client and health personnel can feel sure that they are receiving the communication as it was intended.
  • Health care interpreters are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Why is it important to use an interpreter?

Patients and their family and carers who do not speak English as a first language or are deaf have the right to free, confidential and professional interpreters when they use public health services.

Many patients and carers who speak English as a second language may not need an interpreter, but the stress associated with illness or injury and the unfamiliarity of hospital can affect language skills, particularly if the person is elderly or has learnt English recently. People can find their ability to communicate deteriorates in hospital. Also, conversational English is very different from the language used to discuss medical conditions, treatment options and health concepts. For this reason, it is best to use a professional health care interpreter if there is any doubt about you being able to understand the patient or the patient being able to understand you.

The NSW Standard Procedure for the Use of Health Care Interpreters provides detailed information about using interpreters and the situations in which they should be used.

Can I use the patient's family, carers or friends to interpret?

No. It is NSW Health policy that health care practitioners use professional health care interpreters. Family members or carers should only be used in emergencies or to interpret for non-essential care. Professional health care interpreters are trained in medical terminology and are bound by a code of conduct that requires them to relate information accurately and in full.

Family and friends may leave out or change information for a number of reasons. These may include the wish to protect their relative or friend, because they feel embarrassed or overwhelmed, because they don't understand the information to be interpreted or because they don't know how to phrase it in their community language.

In particular, it is not acceptable to use a child to interpret for a parent or family member. In addition to the risks outlined above, being asked to discuss health information places unnecessary pressure and stress on a child and should be avoided.

Consent obtained by using a patient's family or carer as an interpreter may not be valid.

Can we use a bilingual staff member to interpret?

Interpreting is a professional skill and being bilingual does not mean that a staff member has the ability to interpret at an appropriate standard. The language ability of bilingual staff is untested, and they may not possess the required skills in medical terminology or understanding of interpreting techniques.

Bilingual staff may use their community language in the provision of direct client care, appropriate to their language skills but should not be used to interpret for other staff members.

What if it is an emergency?

In an emergency situation, health care interpreters may be able to provide immediate face-to-face interpreting if the interpreter is nearby. However, it is more likely that telephone interpreting will be provided.

The telephone Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) can also be used in emergency situations. This service is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The organisation is charged for TIS services and the code for the individual hospital/centre is required when making a booking. Check with your facility for the relevant code, and contact TIS on Ph: 131 450.

What if the patient/client refuses to use an interpreter?

All staff (doctors, nurses, allied health staff, ward clerks) have the right to use an interpreter if they do not feel that they understand the patient/client.

If the patient/client refuses to use an interpreter, try to find out the reason for their refusal, and address any concerns. Let patients and families know that interpreters are qualified, professional, strictly confidential and free. If the patient indicates that confidentiality or embarrassment is a concern, you could suggest using an interpreter over the telephone instead of a face to face interpreter. If you feel interpreter services are required and the patient/client refuses, the reasons should be documented in the medical record.

Who do I contact for translations?

Translation is the written transmission of messages from one language to another. SHCIS provides limited translation services for patient related translations only. These include reports, discharge letters or instructions for patients. Please contact us for more information.

For the translation of general health information for broader distribution among culturally and linguistically diverse communities (for example health promotion campaigns), please contact your local Multicultural Health Service or the NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service

What are the different types of interpreting?

Consecutive interpreting
This is the most common form of interpreting in the health setting. It involves the health care professional communicating with the patient as they would in a situation with an English speaking patient. When the health care professional has finished their sentence or question (or pauses during a longer message) the interpreter reproduces the message, in its entirety, in the patient's preferred language. In turn, the interpreter reproduces the patient's answers, comments or questions, in their entirety, in English. The interpreter may rely on memory or take notes during the communication.

Simultaneous interpreting
This style of interpreting is more common in counselling or mental health settings where it is important not to break the flow of information and to capture the important details as they arise. The interpreter immediately speaks the message in one language while listening to it in the other language.

Whispered interpreting
Whispered interpreting is also known as "chuchotage" (from the French). It is most commonly used during health education or information sessions when the majority of a group speaks one language and a smaller number of people speak another language. The small group gathers around the interpreter who simultaneously interpreters the information and whispers the information to the group in their preferred language, while the presenter continues to speak.

For hearing impaired patients
Modes of interpreting for hearing impaired patients include Auslan finger spelling or signing, touch finger spelling and hand-over-hand interpreting. When booking a health care interpreter for a hearing impaired patient, inform them of the patient's level of impairment as this will determine the most effective method of interpreting.