What Does a Sign Language Medical Interpreter Do?

Charlotte Miller

Updated on:

A medical sign language interpreter helps a patient with hearing loss to communicate with a medical provider  in various medical facilities. These professionals  have bilingual fluency in both American Sign Language  & spoken languages with advanced  understanding of  general medical terminologies and procedures. 

Did you know, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), auxiliary aids, including an interpreter, have to be provided to Deaf or hard of hearing patients to ensure  equal access to medical services and care.? 

A licensed healthcare interpreter conveys what a  doctor, nurse, or other medical staff wishes to convey to a  patient. The patient’s response—communicated via  sign language — is interpreted  into  spoken language  for  the medical professional by the sign language interpreter.

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What are  the Qualifications of a Medical Sign Language Interpreter?

The  criteria to receive national certification as a healthcare interpreter from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf  is:-

  • The individual  must be 18-years of age or older . 
  • Must have at least a Bachelor degree or equivalent. 
  • The individual must have passed the RID knowledge and performance exams 
  • Must possess linguistic proficiency in both English and sign language varieties.

The Responsibilities of a Sign Language Medical Interpreter

  • Clear Communication 

A professional medical interpreter helps improve the patient’s understanding & compliance at every stage of their  healthcare journey and prevents  the doctor from misunderstanding or misdiagnosing the patient . This results in minimizing the patient’s  follow-up  visits, hospital stay, and medical expenses. 

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  • Unbiased & Accurate Communication

Under more unfortunate circumstances, patients have to make important decisions when suffering from a disease, undergoing surgery, continuing  medical treatment, or combining medical approaches . This is why  seamless, accurate interpretation of the doctor’s advice and prognosis must  to be communicated clearly to the patient; and the sign language  healthcare interpreter does exactly that. 

Did you know? Specially trained medical interpreters are statistically less likely to make errors or omissions in their interpreting compared to a bilingual family member or office worker? A study by the American College of Emergency Physicians revealed that professional interpreters are 10% less likely to misinterpret than an untrained individual acting as an interpreter.

Medical Specialization

Request  a medical sign language interpreter specialized and experienced in the medical field who understands  healthcare terminology and can accurately interpret it to Deaf or hard-of-hearing patients with a variety of language preference and modalities. The interpreter’s expertise can help you confidently manage your conversations with doctors, specialists, and other medical professionals.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), medical institutions must  make the necessary arrangements for a qualified medical interpreter for patients who are Deaf, Deaf-blind, or who report having hearing loss . Non-compliance with the ADA standards could lead to serious consequences. 

In 2008, a New Jersey doctor refused to provide a sign language interpreter to a Deaf woman who had requested the accommodation multiple times. The jury ruled against the doctor for failure to provide proper ADA accommodation  and sentenced the doctor  to pay a much more expensive price- $400,000 to the Deaf woman. 

Whether you are hiring a medical sign language interpreter for your Deaf, Deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing patients or preparing accommodations for your practice , make sure your service provider  is experienced, qualified, and HIPAA-compliant. Do your due diligence now in partnering with a reputable, experienced accommodations provider, like Inclusive Communication Services, and avoid unqualified interpreters and expensive lawsuits down the line.