Family members as interpreters in GP consultations: what do the patients think?

Published on February 12 2017 – Many migrant patients in the Netherlands with a low Dutch language proficiency bring family members to the general practitioner (GP)’s consultation room to provide interpreting. Although this seems an adequate solution for improving communication, the non-professional family interpreters sometimes create additional obstacles. For instance, family interpreters do not translate all information (correctly) and may have their own hidden agenda in the consultation. The perspective of the patient on the role of the family interpreter in GP consultations however has been scarcely studied so far. Rena Zendedel and colleagues carried out a qualitative interview study to examine the perspective of 21 Turkish-Dutch migrant patients and show their experiences with family-interpreted GP consultations.

The interview themes covered the expected role of the interpreter, trust in the interpreter and the perceived control of the patient. The results show that the patients predominantly expect an advocacy role from their family members. They deeply trust the family interpreters and believe that the family interpreters will act in their best interest. Although the patients experienced that the family interpreters often act as primary interlocutors, by speaking on behalf of the patient and answering the GP’s questions, the patients did not feel dominated by the family interpreters. This is in contrast with the earlier studied GP’s perspective, which has shown that GPs have little trust in family interpreters and report loss of control during interpreter-mediated consultations.

The present research shows that it is important to study the patients’ perspective in addition to the perspective of the health care providers and the interpreter, to arrive at a complete picture of the different expectations and perspectives on interpreter-mediated medical interactions.

Read more? Zendedel, R., Schouten, B. C., van Weert, J. C., & van den Putte, B. (2016). Informal interpreting in general practice: the migrant patient’s voice. Ethnicity & Health, doi: 10.1080/13557858.2016.1246939.

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