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Getting Health Visits in Your Preferred Language

Making sure you and your child’s doctor understand each other is key to a helpful health care visit. Good communication helps make sure that:

  • The doctor or other health care provider understands your concerns and answers your questions.
  • You know how to give any needed medical care at home and what to do if a health problem happens.

But what if English isn’t your first or preferred language? Here are ways to make sure you and the doctor communicate well so your child gets the best care.

How Can I Find a Doctor Who Speaks My Language?

If you can, go to a doctor who speaks your preferred language well and knows when a difference in culture can make something unclear.

To find a doctor who speaks your preferred language:

  • Ask family, friends, neighbors, and people in your community.
  • Call your health insurance for a list of doctors who speak your preferred language.
  • Check with community groups that may know of programs in your preferred language.
  • Search websites of nearby health centers for doctors who speak your preferred language.

If your preferred language is Spanish, you can also:

What if I Can't See a Doctor Who Speaks My Preferred Language?

It might not be easy to see a doctor nearby who speaks your preferred language. Or your child may need to see a specialist or get care when your doctor is not available. If this happens, a trained medical interpreter can make sure you and the doctor understand each other. 

What Is a Medical Interpreter?

Medical interpreters are trained in health terms and can speak clearly in a person’s preferred language. They interpret everything said by the health care provider into your language without adding their own points. A medical interpreter can be:

  • someone on the care team with special training to be a medical interpreter
  • a person whose job is interpreting

Medical interpreters can be with you during an office visit or help by phone or video call

They also:

  • can clear up confusing health discussions
  • are experts in how people with different customs and cultures might not understand each other
  • follow rules of privacy, which means they will not share your health information

There is no cost to you to use a medical interpreter. In the United States, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes using a medical interpreter something all patients and families can get for free. The doctor provides the interpreter and pays their fee.

Can Family or Friends Be Medical Interpreters?

It is best to not have family and friends interpret for you at health visits. That’s because they may not know health terms, which could lead to a mix-up. Using a medical interpreter helps make sure health communication is clear, correct, and private.

Health care providers might allow family and friends to interpret in some situations and if it’s important to you. But they should not ask or expect you to find an interpreter.

Kids should not be interpreters. They could make a mistake using a health term or not be clear on something the doctor says. A nurse or doctor should not let a child interpret except in an emergency when a medical interpreter is not available.

How Do I Ask for a Medical Interpreter?

Tell someone on the care team that you would like to use a medical interpreter. If your child has a planned visit, you can ask for an interpreter before you go so the office can be ready.

You can ask at any point during a health visit. For example, things might seem clear at first, but later you’re not sure you understand what the doctor is saying. It’s never too late to ask for an interpreter.

It can be hard to ask for help. But the free help of an interpreter is there to protect your child’s health. Your doctor wants everything to be clear for you. So, use an interpreter every time you need one.

Seeing a health care provider who speaks your preferred language or using a medical interpreter helps your child get the best care.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: 29-07-2022

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