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10 Reasons Research Supports Using Phone Interpretation: Part 1

Published on August 18, 2014 by Regina Wetzel

Female Patient Interpreter Blue Phone

Is Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI) really effective for your language services program? Don’t you wish you had some solid research and data to determine if it would benefit you and your organization?

Well, today’s your lucky day. Because now you do.

The Toronto organization, The Center for Research on Inner City Health Survey Unit, published their results last month about St. Michael’s Hospital’s year-long OPI use in its language services program. Let’s go over each of the results one by one.

1. Decrease in friends and family assistance

There are many problems with using friends and family instead of a professional interpreter, not the least of which is a higher chance of misinterpretation that could lead to treatment mistakes. Other studies have mentioned that patients often do not want family members, especially children, to act as interpreters because of confidentiality, privacy, and adverse effects on family relationships. You can imagine why an LEP mother would not want her child interpreting the news that she has cancer.

Before incorporating OPI, 52% of providers reported that they ‘often’ or ‘always’ used friends or family to interpret for their patients, and 37% said they did it as least some of the time. With the OPI program, patients were given the opportunity to use a professional, unbiased interpreter and were able to schedule and attend appointments regardless of whether their friends or family members could attend.

2. Decrease in using other staff and providers

Sometimes bilingual staff and bilingual providers become burdened with the task of interpreting for other providers, and this can lead to unbalanced workloads. There is also the risk that the provider could become too involved and start adding their own perspective on the patient’s care instead of interpreting directly.

Before the OPI program, 35% of providers claimed that they used the assistance of other providers to interpret and 23% said that they used the bilingual administrative staff to interpret. After OPI, that number dropped down to 16% and 11% respectively.

3. Decrease in using face-to-face interpreters

After the introduction of OPI, the use of face-to-face interpreters decreased from 37% to 24%.

The report stated that while using face-to-face interpreters for certain appointments is still the most appropriate, many providers have been able to use OPI in visits where a third party would not be welcomed.

One healthcare provider stated that, “[through the telephone] there’s no face-to-face contact. It’s anonymous. I haven’t seen one person having a negative attitude towards it. They’re all happy to have the service and we go over lots of personal issues if we talk about mental health or sexual health. They actually prefer to use phone so there is no … judgmental face in front of them.”

Three down, seven more to go!

These are just the first three out of seven great reasons to employ OPI at your facility. Stay tuned to hear the next three very soon!

Read Part 2 here.