Understanding medical interpreters: reconceptualizing bilingual health communication

Health Commun. 2006;20(2):177-86. doi: 10.1207/s15327027hc2002_9.


This article provides a new approach in conceptualizing bilingual health communication, emphasizing the differences between types of medical interpreters as well as the interrelationships among all participants in bilingual health communication. Confronted by the conflicting results of interpreting services in medical settings, the author used past research to explain why medical interpreters should be categorized into different categories (i.e., chance interpreters, untrained interpreters, bilingual health care providers, on-site interpreters, and telephone interpreters) so that their characteristics and interpreting styles can be better observed and understood. In addition, by recognizing that interpreter-mediated communications in health settings are dynamic situations and that all participants can influence the outcomes of the communication, researchers can start to investigate the interrelationships among all the participants and, thus, develop different strategies that will improve the quality of bilingual health communication.

MeSH terms

  • Communication Barriers
  • Communication*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Health Services Administration*
  • Humans
  • Multilingualism*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Quality of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Translating*