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4 Potential Pitfalls of Phone Interpretation (and How to Avoid Them)

Given the financial and logistical difficulties of securing last-minute on-site interpreters and the potential unreliability of using family members or bilingual staff as go-betweens, many organizations have embraced Phone Interpretation as a solution for communicating with Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients.

Why’s that? You get interpreters faster, eliminate the potential legal and ethical implications of using family members, and avoid the high fixed costs of bilingual staff.

That said, bringing a third party into a situation means a potential loss of control over the service delivery environment. Here are four common pitfalls encountered by organizations like yours and tips for how to avoid them:


Problem: Loss of Accuracy

Phone interpreting can increase the challenge of relaying an accurate message. Interpreters must let the speaker finish his thought while mentally storing the information conveyed, then accurately match the content, tone, and general message of the speaker while relaying it in another language. Unlike in-person interpreters, those on the phone must do this without the benefit of visual cues.

Solution: Professional Interpreters with Consistent Training

Like any professional, phone interpreters should be trained to excel. Training should include consecutive interpreting techniques like working with speakers to break conversation into manageable chunks. Without proper training, interpreters may let speakers talk for extended periods of time, reducing accuracy. Ask potential vendors what the interpretation training is like for their companies – many companies rely on interpreters to train themselves.

Problem: Poor Sound Quality/Reliability

Phone Interpretation dependent on technology and good sound environments. Are your vendor’s interpreters located in a country with a reliable telephony infrastructure? Can you tell whether the interpreter is on a land line or a cell phone? Can you hear background noise from the interpreter’s end? Any of these details could impact the quality of the call.

Solution: Reliable US Infrastructure

Different countries have different infrastructure. You know interpreters working in the US rely on its telecom networks – do you know what those phone and data networks are like in, say, the Dominican Republic? Work locations can play a role as well – is the interpreter in a secure center with high quality equipment, or are they expected to supply themselves with equipment and connections at home? The vendor’s own internal call-management infrastructureshould include redundancies so that unexpected problems do not affect its ability to handle your calls. We offer interpretation from staff in secure US contact centers. You know what to expect when calling.

Why CyraCom Page-US Contact Centers Tab

Problem: Anonymous, Unaccountable Interpreters

When using a phone interpreter, how do you know they are qualified? Do you know where they are taking the call from? How well do they actually speak their working languages? Is anyone monitoring the work that they do to ensure it meets your quality standards?

Solution: Vendor Verification and Monitoring

Ask potential vendors how they hire, train, and monitor their interpreters. Do they require background checks? What level of education do they require, and how much training do they provide? Are their interpreters regularly monitored by someone who speaks the same language to ensure ongoing accuracy? We monitor interpreters a target of 12 times a month for their lifetime of employment – what do other vendors do?

Problem: Lack of Privacy/Security

Using a phone interpreter for calls regarding healthcare, finances, and business transactions means that vast amounts of private and sensitive data pass through the interpreter. Can anyone else on the interpreter’s end hear the conversation? What if the interpreter maintains and misuses that information? How can this be avoided?

Solution: Vendor Security Protocols

Before choosing a vendor, ask them important questions about their security practices. Most other Phone Interpretation providers rely primarily on interpreters working in unsecured environments. If you’d rather minimize the risk of data breach via interpretation vendor, make sure your calls are handled in secure facilities. Ask questions like: Are interpreters at-home or in a contact center? If at-home, does the vendor have procedures to make sure they don’t retain your data? Are there requirements in place to ensure conversations are not overheard? If interpreters are in a center,how is the center itself secured? Do they record calls and take notes? Is that information destroyed once a call is finished?

For organizations seeking clear communication with LEP patients, Phone interpretation offers the chance to reduce costs and improve efficiency. It does bring its own challenges, but using the solutions laid out here, a quality Language Services Provider can overcome them and serve as a valuable part of your team.

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