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Interpreter Services at Covenant Health


“As soon as they hear their own language, there are visible signs of relief.”

Rafael Marin, Covenant Health’s Interpretive Services lead, stressed the impact of someone being able to communicate to health care personnel in their native language.

“Now I can understand what the doctor is saying. Now I can ask questions and get answers; I can understand what’s going on and what the plan of action is,” he said, from the patient perspective.

Marin also stressed the importance of having qualified interpreters from a medical standpoint.

“There have been cases where people have made mistakes in their interpretation, whether they’re first, second or third generation from whatever country they come from,” he said. “Their language skills may not be up to date. In the medical realm, a tiny mistake can have horrible consequences.”

Covenant has about 20 qualified interpreters, most of whom are nurses who are bilingual. But for other languages and sign language, Marin says Covenant is equipped and prepared for those as well. Interpretive services are free.

To become a certified interpreter, an initial test is taken over the phone. First, the candidate will be asked questions, then asked to interpret from Spanish to English then vice versa. One has to have good language skills. Once that section is passed, there is a required 40-hour class that includes anatomy and medical terminology.

For sign language, Covenant works with a company called Deaf Lubbock, with whom they can call or set an appointment.

Marin explained that over time, technology has changed and makes interpreting much easier.

“Everything now is computerized, wireless. You can have a patient talking with someone in seconds.”

Older technology included computers and video screens that allowed patients to video conference with an interpreter. Now we have tablets like the iPad Pro and since most people now have smart phones or a tablet that are very user friendly, the process has become simpler.

Nurses can use their Vocera devices to call immediately to Pacific Interpreters, with the push of one button. Another device is a dual-handset phone landline that plugs into the phone jack in the patient’s room, which Marin said, they hope to have in each room by the end of this year. One handset is for the patient and the other handset is for the health care provider.

Additional technology includes tablet access as well; however, sometimes wifi issues do create challenges, which is why Marin is advocating for more than one device or piece of technology.

And, Marin says, the workload varies greatly from day to day.

Interpretive Services use varies – some days it’s nonstop. It’s very unpredictable. We always need to be ready. This is a regional effort, so we do cover Plainview, Levelland, Children’s, Specialty and Medical Center.”

Marin reiterated that the interpersonal communications aspect is important to the process, no matter how far technology may take them

“There are certain critical scenarios where you wouldn’t want to use technology or any electronic device – when the situation requires the human-touch. To be able to comfort someone, in their own language, you wouldn’t want to rely on a device alone. Human compassion goes a long way.”

This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please seek medical advice from your physician for any related medical condition. If you are in need of a primary care doctor, click here to find one in the Covenant Health network.

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