By Anne Evenson
The pandemic has changed the world significantly, and its impact on healthcare is undeniable. This seismic shift may signal lasting changes to how healthcare interpreters provide this critical service to their clients.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and with social distancing becoming standard practice in most settings, healthcare interpreters have adopted new protocols and procedures to facilitate communication between medical professionals, public health officials and people with limited English proficiency (LEP). The profession is evolving to meet current challenges, and we will be watching to see if the following trends translate into long-term changes for the field.
1. The Rise of Remote Interpretation
Face-to-face medical interpreting is usually the preferred mode of communication between providers, LEP patients and interpreters. However, in response to the pandemic, there has been a massive surge in telehealth systems usage, making telephonic interpretation and video remote interpretation (VRI) crucial in cases where a language barrier exists.
Telephonic interpretation is a remote service that offers medical interpreting options to LEP populations who may not have internet access. As the name suggests, telephonic interpretation is conducted over the phone and relies solely on verbal communication. When internet access is available, VRI is another option. With the addition of cameras or videophones, interpreters can discern visual and auditory signals like body language and linguistic cues, bridging the gap between on-site and telephone interpretation services. Both options enable healthcare interpreters and providers to respond quickly in urgent situations, without requiring all three parties to be in the same location.
While some healthcare interpreters will return to on-site medical interpreting following the pandemic, many will continue to provide remote interpretation services. Some healthcare interpreters prefer not to travel back and forth within an extensive hospital system. There are also advantages for healthcare providers who require someone who interprets for a less-widely-spoken language.
Healthcare administrators may see on-demand remote interpreting services as a way to reduce costs. If the demand for remote interpretation continues, it will be necessary for healthcare interpreters to keep up with translation technology to continue to meet clients’ needs in terms of speed and quality of delivery.
2. An Increased Demand for Translation Services
Though often used interchangeably, the terms translation and interpretation refer to two different communication services. Interpreting is the process of transmitting verbal communications, most often conducted live, between individuals. Translation typically refers to written communication, which can be conducted over an extended period and allows for crafting and editing the final translated message.
Concise and accurate communication is critical during a crisis. With public health organizations and medical facilities nationwide facing an urgent need to develop a large volume of coronavirus-related informational materials for broad distribution, there has been a growing demand for translation services. Healthcare interpreters fill this need and provide translations of written material for communicating vital information to LEP populations across the country.
3. A Growing Need for Spanish Interpretation Services
According to the CDC, Hispanics and Latinos comprise 24% of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Language barriers are among the most significant contributing factors that make racial and ethnic groups particularly vulnerable to public health emergencies like the coronavirus. Spanish-speaking healthcare interpreters can help reduce these health disparities and slow the spread of COVID-19 in LEP communities.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, Texas is likely to face a continued need for healthcare interpreters who speak Spanish. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one-third of Texas’ population speaks a language other than English at home, and more than 80 percent of those individuals speak Spanish.
In a world of increased globalization and diversity, the demand for certified healthcare interpreters continues to grow by leaps and bounds. If you are bilingual or multilingual and looking for a rewarding career in health services, consider the Healthcare Interpreter Certificate Program offered by The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Professional Education (CPE).
This exciting program fulfills the 40-hour education requirement required to take the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) exams.
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Austin, Texas. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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