Interpreter services now available to a wider range of general practice patients

Amanda Lyons

14/12/2017 2:39:52 PM

The Federal Government’s Translating and Interpreting Service has provided expanded services for GPs and their patients from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

The use of qualified interpreters can help to bridge gaps in cultural understanding, as well as language.
The use of qualified interpreters can help to bridge gaps in cultural understanding, as well as language.

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) has long provided GPs and their nursing and support staff with access to its free interpreting service (using a client code number) when they are providing Medicare-rebatable services. However, while the interpreting services were previously available only to patients holding select visas, they can now be provided to all patients holding a Medicare card. 
TIS has also provided updated information and resource packs for general practices, which are to be distributed via local Primary Health Networks (PHNs). Each pack contains enough resources for one practice and five practitioners.
Dr Margaret Kay, GP and Refugee Health Clinical Lead for the Brisbane South PHN, is pleased to see the whole-of-practice expansion of the interpreter services, which she feels help to bridge gaps in cultural understanding of healthcare as well as language.
‘We so often take for granted that we’re getting consent in our conversation with patients, for even a minor operation,’ Dr Kay told newsGP. ‘But what if the patient doesn’t understand that there will be a scar left, or why you’re cutting off that mole?
‘A cut in a particular area of their body might have a cultural value for some patients that you don’t understand. You need to be able to navigate and address their concerns before you get the appropriate consent.’
Dr Kaye warns that just because a patient can speak some English, it does not necessarily mean they have an adequate understanding of the messages being conveyed.
‘When you’re navigating linguistic and cultural barriers and significant difference in health beliefs, it’s really important to be able to communicate accurately around those issues,’ she said.
Dr Kay also emphasised the importance of working with professional interpreters in general practice, rather than relying on patients’ friends and family, illustrating the point with a not-uncommon scenario.
‘The patient wants to tell you her health problems, which happen to be about her periods and the fact that she’s unexpectedly pregnant. But she brings along her 11-year-old son to interpret,’ she said. ‘Is she really going to tell you what she’s worried about?
‘In the end she might just tell you her toe is sore, and you’re wondering why she came with something so silly – but you never found out what was really going on.’
GPs who want to use TIS have access to a Doctor’s Priority Line, which in most cases enables access to an interpreter within three minutes. GPs can also book interpreters ahead of time, which can be helpful if the patient speaks a language for which it is difficult to secure an interpreter. Practices can also book an onsite interpreter if they know an especially complex consultation is coming up.

Note: The original version of the story stated that the new interpreter service was available to a wider range of practice staff, rather than a wider range of patients. This has since been amended.

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Dr Sarath Wimalaratne Station Family Practice   20/12/2017 8:06:22 AM

How can we access translators during a Consultation without wasting too much time?
We often have patients who attend without appointments.[ walk in patients]