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Highlighting your health: Interpreters give all patients a voice


Vidant Health Communications

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It is no secret that health care communication can be incredibly complex. This is especially so for patients who experience language and cultural barriers.

Luckily, there is a group of specially-trained Vidant Health Language Access Service interpreters who offer a voice to patients in-need, 24/7. They work in partnership with care providers and patients to ensure that the proper information is being shared in a way that makes sense to both parties.

“It does not matter what language you speak,” said Julio Maldonado supervisor for Language Access Services at Vidant. “When a patient comes to one of our facilities, whether it’s a hospital or even an outpatient clinic, they are going to receive help understanding the care being provided to them.”

For Maldonado and his team, providing that interpretation can mean a variety of different things. Interpreters can serve four primary roles — conduit, clarifier, cultural broker, advocate — all of which help create a more inclusive experience and partnership in a patient’s care.

This can be done in a number of ways. It all started more than 30 years ago when a group of East Carolina University students started volunteering at the hospital to help interpret for patients and their loved ones. Now, Vidant interpreters have to meet certification and education requirements and are rigorously trained to understand how to bridge the gap between language and culture.

More than 137,000 people in the 29 counties that Vidant serves identify as speaking a language other than English at home, meaning interpreters need to be ready to help with a variety of other languages. For this, care providers turn to video conferencing with interpreters in a “face-time” setting. This means that there are more than 200 languages that Vidant is equipped to help interpret.

Misconceptions do exist, though. Just because a patients’ family member or friend is bilingual, does not mean they would be the best person to interpret medical care. This is also true for programs like Google Translate, which often times omit important context leaving users unable to judge the accuracy of the results.

Medical terminology features acronyms and scientific words that can be confusing, even for an English-speaking patient. That problem, though, can be exacerbated by a language barrier.

That is when the interpreters get involved.

“Family members can hear the words, but they don’t necessarily know what it means,” said Tamara Williams, coordinator for Language Access Service. “Is this invasive? How will this make me feel? All of that matters to a patient.”

Pursuing equity and inclusion within a health system is essential to ensure that patient care is safe, timely, effective and equitable. None of that can be achieved without bridging the communication gap.

“Clear, effective communication is the cornerstone of excellent care,” Maldonado said.

To learn more about Vidant Health Language Access Service call 1-855-MyVidant.


1. Vidant Medical Center has a Spanish interpreter on-site at all times, 24-7.

2. Language assistance is a civil right for patients and their families.

3. Patients and families can request interpreter services from any Vidant team member, both clinical and non-clinical, at any time.

4. Interpretation is provided at no charge.

5. Do not rely on online translation services to give you an accurate translation for medical topics.