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Patient Educ Couns. 2008 Jan;70(1):87-93. Epub 2007 Nov 26.

Through interpreters' eyes: comparing roles of professional and family interpreters.

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Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, St. Mary's Hospital, 515 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, QC H2X 1S4, Canada.



We describe and compare the perceptions of professional and family member interpreters concerning their roles and tasks as interpreters in primary care clinical encounters.


Encounters between physicians (19) and patients (24) accompanied by a professional (6) or a family (9) interpreter were videotaped. Stimulated recall was used to elicit interpreters' perceptions of their role in the clinical encounter. We analyzed transcriptions of the interpreter interviews using Atlas-ti software.


The roles professional interpreters identified were: information transfer; creating a safe environment for the patient; mediation between cultures; maintaining professional boundaries. Family interpreters perceived their roles (facilitating understanding; ensuring diagnosis and treatment; interacting with the health care system) as part of their responsibilities as a family member.


Professional interpreters act mainly to ensure information transfer. Family interpreters act mainly as a third participant often speaking as themselves rather than rendering the words of doctor and patient into the other's language.


To obtain the maximum benefit from a professional interpreter the physician must invite the interpreter to act as an advocate for the patient and a culture broker. Physicians should always use a professional interpreter to ensure accurate information transfer. A family member should often be included in encounters to serve as a valuable patient advocate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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