CPD Articles

Do not lose your patient in translation: Using interpreters effectively in primary care

Talat Habib, Arun Nair, Klaus von Pressentin, Ramprakash Kaswa, Hamid Saeed
South African Family Practice | Vol 65, No 1 : Part 1| a5655 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v65i1.5655 | © 2023 Talat Habib, Arun Nair, Klaus von Pressentin, Ramprakash Kaswa, Hamid Saeed | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 October 2022 | Published: 27 February 2023

About the author(s)

Talat Habib, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and, Department of Family Medicine, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, Kimberley, South Africa
Arun Nair, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and, Department of Family Medicine, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, Kimberley, South Africa
Klaus von Pressentin, Division of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Ramprakash Kaswa, Department of Family Medicine and Rural Health, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha, South Africa; and, Mthatha General Hospital, Mthatha, South Africa
Hamid Saeed, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and, Department of Family Medicine, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital, Kimberley, South Africa

Abstract

South Africa is a multicultural society characterised by a rich diversity of languages. As a result, many healthcare providers and their patients often do not speak the same language, which makes communication challenging. The language barriers, when present, require an interpreter to ensure accurate and effective communication between the parties. In addition to assisting in a clear exchange of information, a trained medical interpreter also acts as a cultural liaison. This is especially true when the provider and the patient come from different cultural backgrounds. Based on the patient’s needs, preferences, and available resources, clinicians should select and engage with the most appropriate interpreter. The effective use of an interpreter requires knowledge and skill. Patients and healthcare providers can benefit from several specific behaviours during interpreter-mediated consultations. This review article provides practical tips on when and how to use an interpreter effectively during clinical encounters in primary healthcare settings in South Africa.

Keywords

medical interpreter; modes of interpretation; types of medical interpreters; cultural liaison; communication barriers; primary care

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