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5 Tips to Make Working with a Phone Interpreter a Success

You likely already provide staff training on the use of interpreters. In this section, we want to share some tips that may bolster your existing training, based on an example scenario.


A nurse is assisting Beatrice Ramirez before her first ultrasound. Ms. Ramirez only speaks Spanish, so the nurse picks up the Blue Phone, dials CyraCom, hands one receiver to Ms. Ramirez, and then says “Spanish” when prompted for the language. Within seconds a Spanish interpreter is on the line.

1. Listen to the interpreter’s introduction and notate the interpreter number

“Hello, my name is Gina and I will be your Spanish interpreter, 662396. I will interpret everything you say and keep it confidential. How may I help you?”

At the beginning of every call, the interpreter will make an introductory statement, giving their name and ID number. Wait for the interpreter to finish the script before moving on, and if your facility records this info, write down the number in the patient’s chart.

2. Provide the interpreter with a brief explanation of the call

“Hi interpreter,” the nurse says, “I’m here with Ms. Ramirez for her ultrasound. This is part of her regular prenatal visits, and this visit is usually when we learn the sex of the baby, if Ms. Ramirez would like to do so.”

Giving the context of a situation at the beginning of the call helps interpreters to know the situation and provide better service. Clarify if the appointment is a routine checkup or surgery, that discharge or a diagnosis will be discussed, that a patient is hard of hearing, or other details.

3. Approve the introduction to the patient

The interpreter asks, “May I introduce myself to the other party?”

By ethical and training standards, the interpreter must obtain permission to directly address an LEP patient. By giving permission, the interpreter can put the patient at ease and explain their presence on the phone.

“Good afternoon, I will be your Spanish Interpreter. I will interpret everything you say and keep it confidential. Please speak in short phrases. One moment, please.”

The interpreter switches back to English. “Go ahead, ma’am,” she says to the nurse.

4. Listen to the interpretation in entirety

The nurse begins the ultrasound check in for Ms. Ramirez. She looks at the patient’s chart and begins to ask questions to confirm that the patient’s file is accurate. “Have you been pregnant before?”

The patient responds in Spanish, and the interpreter follows with the interpretation in English. The nurse sees from her chart that Ms. Ramirez had one child previously and has an urge to interrupt the interpreter to move on. Instead, the nurse waits until the end of the explanation to hear that not only did the patient have a child, but there were complications in the pregnancy not listed in the chart.

Sometimes staff may interrupt if there already seems to be an explanation in the chart; in this case, the provider did the right thing. However, important information can be missed in the interest of efficiency. Letting the interpreter finish promotes accuracy and reduces the risk that an LEP patient may become confused because of an interruption.

5. Confirm the interpretation session is over

The ultrasound goes well and the baby girl is developing well. “All right, we’re done,” the nurse says.

“Ma’am, do you require further interpretation?” the interpreter asks.

“No, I do not,” the nurse replies.

“Thank you for using our service. Interpreter 662396 disconnecting.”

If the phone goes silent for a while or a healthcare provider says “We’re done,” the interpreter must additionally confirm that interpretation is no longer needed. Confirming the question will enable the interpreter to leave the call faster than hanging up. This policy exists so that noise that sounds like hanging up or silence will not lead to unannounced disconnections from an interpreter.


Have any interpretation tips you’d like to share? Share in the comments below or email!

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