Interpreters play critical role in caring for our patients

Latest News 12 May 2020 | People who live in the Counties Manukau Health district and have no English or limited understanding of the language can count on a highly skilled team of 28 permanent and 180 casual interpreters. Running since 1994, our Interpreting Service team cover 83 languages and dialects and help patients with their appointments as well as navigate the healthcare system.

“An interpreter is used where a patient has difficulty understanding medical terminology. Even if a patient has good command and understanding of English but falls short on understanding how the health system works or medical terminology, our interpreters will help,” says Kim de Jong, Team Leader, Interpreting and Translation Services.  

“We find that it helps reduce the number of appointments people do not attend.”

Interpreters are a bridge between the clinician and the patient. They not only translate the language, but also take cultural and social aspects into consideration.  For all planned appointments, interpreters ring the patient before they see them to explain how it will work.

“That helps break down a barrier and put the person at ease.”

“There are so many things that are part of interpreting; you have to understand who the decision maker in the family is, in which instance a male or female interpreter is most appropriate, what are the social barriers to care that they are experiencing, and so on. In terms of language, sometimes there isn’t a direct translation to a specific word or term, or it is taboo, and they have to try and find words around it to deliver the same message,” explains Kim.

The highest demand for interpreters is for Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Punjabi, Samoan and Tongan. There is also a high demand for Arabic, Assyrian, Cook Islands Maaori, Vietnamese and Korean.

Kim de Jong is very proud of her staff. “They care so much for our community; it’s much more than a job for them. Once employed with us, they usually only leave if they retire.”

COVID-19 impact - Before COVID-19, the service saw an average of 250 patients a day – about 55,000 appointments a year, and also contract services out to other organisations in the community. During lockdown, with the majority of outpatient clinics and elective surgeries cancelled, as well as low ward occupancy, there was a momentary decrease in number of job requests.

“With COVID-19, our processes changed almost overnight. Interpreters were set up to work from home. Overall, our service quickly became virtual: by phone, three way conference calls and interpreting via Zoom.  However, on many occasions, such as acute surgery, face to face – respecting the safe distance - is the only option.”

Kim de Jong hopes that these alternative ways to connect will continue to be in place in the future as it has proven to be very effective for patients, whaanau and interpreters.

Workshop - This year, the service organised the first interpreter’s workshop with Cancer and Palliative Care Services to share information and educate each other on the best way to communicate and work collaboratively.

“A key part of the job is a 15 minute brief between the clinician and interpreter so that the interpreter can find out what will be discussed beforehand and prepare. The interpreter will also brief the clinician on any cultural or social aspects that might impact on care. The workshop is a way to understand how to work even better together for the benefit of our patients.”

Anne-Marie Wilkins, Service Manager for Cancer, Palliative Care and Haematology, has worked for many years with interpreters. “For me, they give patients a voice that they wouldn’t otherwise have; as well as interpreting the words they are also providing context and culturally advocating for the patient. I see it as a three-way relationship: patient, clinician and interpreter. The workshop helped me understand how interpreters experience things from their perspective.”

*Photo taken before the Covid-19 pandemic

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