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West J Med. 1992 September; 157(3): 255–259.
PMCID: PMC1011272

Translation is not enough. Interpreting in a medical setting.


Unique obstacles must be overcome when providing medical care to patients who have an incomplete command of the English language. Serious barriers to effective communication may arise at the exact point where our health care system must succeed or fail. Miscommunication, differences in attitudes about health care, and various other misunderstandings interfere with or frustrate good health care for these patients and their families. Such difficulties are best overcome by the use of a professional interpreter who can ensure good communication between patients and health care professionals. My daily experiences as a professional medical interpreter and translator in Spanish provide insights into the complexities of bilingual and bicultural communication in the hospital setting. Although the examples given relate to Hispanic patients, the lessons learned can be extended to other foreign language patients as well.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Poma PA. Pregnancy in Hispanic women. J Natl Med Assoc. 1987 Sep;79(9):929–935. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Hall TA. Designing culturally relevant educational materials for Mexican American clients. Diabetes Educ. 1987 Summer;13(3):281–285. [PubMed]
  • Poma PA. Impact of culture on health care: Hispanos. IMJ Ill Med J. 1979 Dec;156(6):451–458. [PubMed]
  • Rader GS. Management decisions: do we really need interpreters? Nurs Manage. 1988 Jul;19(7):46–48. [PubMed]

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