Australian Family Physician
Australian Family Physician


Volume 38, Issue 6, June 2009

Telephone interpreters in general practice Bridging the barriers to their use

Yu-Ting Huang Christine Phillips
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Although the Australian Translating and Interpreting Service offers the world’s largest free telephone health interpreter service, it remains underused. This study explores barriers for nonmedical practice staff to accessing telephone interpreters.
The attitudes and leadership of nonmedical staff about the need for interpreters may be key factors in promoting the use of interpreters in the general practice setting. Misconceptions about telephone interpreters abound among general practice staff. They defer decisions about interpreter access to GPs, posing the risk that access decisions become no-one’s business. A whole of system approach to increasing uptake of interpreters is required, including education of medical and nonmedical staff, incentives through Medicare, and more explicit accreditation standards.
One-quarter of the participants did not know about, and/or how to use, telephone interpreters. Staff cited a range of ad hoc communication strategies of dubious quality for non-English speaking patients. All participants would only contact an interpreter on the general practitioner’s direction; however few recalled any cases in which the GP had done so.

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