How to Hire a Foreign/Sign Language Interpreter

Doccupy recognizes that laws requiring some physicians to provide foreign/sign language interpreters at the physician's expense may lead to discrimination against affected individuals since it destroys the essence of the professional relationship and may impose a financial burden on the physician. Physicians may engage in strategies to avoid treating hearing impaired patients or those with limited ability to speak English, such as:

  • Avoiding referrals from providers (with heavy accents) likely to refer such patients
  • Reviewing records for evidence of need for an interpreter prior to scheduling initial evaluation
  • Requiring patients to use voice mail to schedule appointments
  • Requiring patients to sign treatment and informed consent agreements written in English
  • Requiring the hearing impaired patient or family member to prove s/he is deaf
  • Requiring the patient or family member to prove s/he cannot speak English
  • Requiring the patient or family member to sign an authorization for release of information (written in English) to the interpreter.
  • Requiring the patient or family member to release the physician from liability for miscommunication. Maybe such language should be included in all patient agreements and informed consent agreements.
  • Requiring the patient or family member to agree that the encounter will be cancelled if the interpreter does not show up, that the patient will pay a no show fee, and that the patient releases the physician from liability if injury results.
  • Requiring the patient to pay for the interpreter if the patient does not show up (in addition to the usual no show fee)

Hiring and paying for an interpreter does not have to discourage you, the physician, from treating these deserving patients. To gain a basic understanding of the requirements read this guidance from the Office for Civil Rights (the government agency that will initiate criminal or civil prosecution against you if you make a mistake). Do NOT try to bill your patient for the hour or so it will take to read this document. Fortunately finding an interpreter is not an emergency. You can take your time.

Also likely to make the process of obtaining an interpreter less anxiety provoking consider following these suggestions. Require the interpreter to: 

  • provide evidence of malpractice insurance that indemnifies you and your carrier if your patient sustains injury due to the interpreter's mistake 
  • provide evidence of certification as a medical interpreter 
  • provide evidence of workers compensation coverage to protect you if the interpreter gets hurt at your office
  • sign a contractor agreement if you're a HIPAA covered entity