Telephone interpreters in general practice - Bridging the barriers to their use

Aust Fam Physician. 2009 Jun;38(6):443-6.


Background: Although the Australian Translating and Interpreting Service offers the world's largest free telephone health interpreter service, it remains underused. This study explores barriers for nonmedical practice staff to accessing telephone interpreters.

Methods: Data were collected through five focus groups of 4-8 people. Participants were receptionists and practice nurses from the Australian Capital Territory and rural New South Wales attending a update on current practice issues.

Results: One-quarter of the participants did not know about, and/or how to use, telephone interpreters. Staff cited a range of ad hoc communication strategies of dubious quality for non-English speaking patients. All participants would only contact an interpreter on the general practitioner's direction; however few recalled any cases in which the GP had done so.

Discussion: The attitudes and leadership of nonmedical staff about the need for interpreters may be key factors in promoting the use of interpreters in the general practice setting. Misconceptions about telephone interpreters abound among general practice staff. They defer decisions about interpreter access to GPs, posing the risk that access decisions become no-one's business. A whole of system approach to increasing uptake of interpreters is required, including education of medical and nonmedical staff, incentives through Medicare, and more explicit accreditation standards.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Decision Making
  • Family Practice*
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Services Accessibility* / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Telephone
  • Translating*