Interpreter services in emergency medicine

J Emerg Med. 2010 Feb;38(2):133-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2007.09.045. Epub 2008 Jun 20.


Emergency physicians are routinely confronted with problems associated with language barriers. It is important for emergency health care providers and the health system to strive for cultural competency when communicating with members of an increasingly diverse society. Possible solutions that can be implemented include appropriate staffing, use of new technology, and efforts to develop new kinds of ties to the community served. Linguistically specific solutions include professional interpretation, telephone interpretation, the use of multilingual staff members, the use of ad hoc interpreters, and, more recently, the use of mobile computer technology at the bedside. Each of these methods carries a specific set of advantages and disadvantages. Although professionally trained medical interpreters offer improved communication, improved patient satisfaction, and overall cost savings, they are often underutilized due to their perceived inefficiency and the inconclusive results of their effect on patient care outcomes. Ultimately, the best solution for each emergency department will vary depending on the population served and available resources. Access to the multiple interpretation options outlined above and solid support and commitment from hospital institutions are necessary to provide proper and culturally competent care for patients. Appropriate communications inclusive of interpreter services are essential for culturally and linguistically competent provider/health systems and overall improved patient care and satisfaction.

MeSH terms

  • Cultural Competency
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Multilingualism
  • Patients
  • Translations*