KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

Medical Sight Translation Practice

I‘ve had a few folks asking me to compile some resources for sight translation practice.  Here are some common forms, disclosures, and medical reports for and other resources I’ve found in my online travels!

Please note that these forms and documents are being provided for reference and educational purposes only.  These documents and forms are not my own, I have not modified them in any way, and am not sharing any information that would not otherwise be publicly available.

Common Forms

For the sake of brevity, I won’t be adding lengthy descriptions to these links because I feel they’re fairly self-explanatory.  Please let me know if at any point any of these links become broken as I have saved copies of these forms on my hard drive for future reference.

Personal Medical History

If you’ve never had to do a sight translation of one of these forms, boy are you lucky!  Simple as they often are, they’re long and often list off a slew of prior medical conditions that you have to rattle off to the patient.

Medical Release of Information

The nice thing about doing a sight translation of medical release of information forms is that they often have a few short paragraphs of text explaining the purposes of the release, as well as how to revoke consent.  It’s a pretty straightforward but fundamental document to translate!

Mental Health Questionnaires

Even though this category is called “Mental Health Questionnaires,” these are often also administered in general medical settings.

Miscellaneous Forms

❌ NOT Appropriate for Sight Translation…

In the original version of this article, I shared some documents that we as medical interpreters shouldn’t perform a sight translation of. Yuliya S., a Certified Healthcare Interpreter (Russian) and Interpreter Trainer, was kind enough to point out that the National Council on Interpreting in Healthcare (NCIHC) has a guidance document on sight translation and written translation for medical interpreters.  I felt the need to include this as an addendum to the article since it touches on the types of documents we should and should not be doing sight translations of as medical interpreters.  I highly recommend reviewing it as it sets some pretty clear guidelines that even I wasn’t familiar with at the time. 

I have chosen to still include these documents in this updated version of the article for a few reasons. To begin with, it’s important for medical interpreters to recognize just what the documents we shouldn’t perform a sight translation of look like! Secondly, even if the documents presented after this point are not suitable for sight translations in the medical field, they might be excellent practice for other types of sight translations you may be asked to do!

❌ General Background Info on How an Institution Functions

According to the NCIHC, documents that provide general background information on how an institution functions are usually very long and are therefore not appropriate for sight translation. Patients are unlikely to remember what you’ve just performed a sight translation of! Some examples of these documents include:

  • Notice of privacy practices
  • Patient bill of rights
  • Patient manuals
  • Patient rights & responsibilities

As I mentioned previously, I am including some examples of these documents below for your reference. This way, you can quickly and easily recognize which documents aren’t suitable for sight translation.

❌ Notice of Privacy Practices

To begin with, the Department of Health and Human Services website has some guidance documents on notices of privacy practices for patients.  If you’ve ever interpreted in well, any medical setting, you know that health insurance plans and most healthcare providers are required to provide a copy of this notice to patients.

I have (unfortunately) run into situations where practices are under-prepared for their patients with LEP and either don’t have a copy on hand in their language, their privacy practices are badly translated, or they’re using a check-in tablet service that is not configured properly to provide translated versions of forms.  While all of this shouldn’t happen, you may still want to familiarize yourself with such documents, especially since you will likely be interpreting a verbal explanation of these forms by registration or reception staff.

The nice thing about the HHS website is that everything is available at least in English and Spanish.  Many pages are also available in other common languages as well, so this can be a great resource if you’re looking for versions of these common documents in another language.

❌ Patient Rights & Responsibilities

Unfortunately there aren’t any handy documents at the Department of Health and Human Services website for another common disclosure: Patient Rights and Responsibilities (darn!).  You can go to their rights & responsibilities page which does have a lot of useful links, but as I said, there’s not one big document to sight translate.  This is probably due to the fact that even though it’s similar among facilities, it often has small variations, even between practices within the same network!

Instead, I’ll share with you some links to a bunch of different prominent healthcare organizations’ “Patient Rights and Responsibilities” disclosures!

  • Fauquier Health – Patient Rights and Responsibilities
    Well isn’t this just cool?  In my research I stumbled upon a link to a blog of a PR specialist at the hospital system of the county I grew up in in Virginia.  She posted a bunch of images of their (then, newly-revised) “Patient Rights and Responsibilities” from 2007.  This may seem like a long time ago, but the “revised” dates on the bottom of many of the documents I regularly do sight translations of are often just as old!
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine – Patient Rights and Responsibilities
    Each of their facilities has their own version of their patient rights and responsibilities, and all of them are linked on this one handy page in common languages ranging from Spanish to Amharic!
  • Mayo Clinic – Patient Rights and Responsibilities (PDF)
    Mayo Clinic actually has a PDF version of their English “Patient Rights and Responsibilities” pamphlet available online.
  • American Hospital Association Patient’s Bill of Rights
    While not strictly a “Patient Rights and Responsibilities” disclosure, this page is very similar to something you might find when going to a doctor’s office or hospital.

Bonus!  I also found this excellent cached version of a PDF from the American Psychiatric Association entitled “Principles for the Provision of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services: A Bill of Rights.”  Unfortunately I can’t seem to find a link to the original document anywhere, but I was able to save a copy of the PDF that you can download directly from my site.  This is basically a version of “Patient Rights and Responsibilities” for mental health care.

❌ Patient Education Materials

Much like documents that contain general background information, patient education materials like booklets, brochures, or handouts are often pretty lengthy. These documents are typically materials a patient is going to want to reference later and contain valuable information about health conditions or other medical information. If the educational materials being provided to the patient you’re interpreting for are long, it will take a long time to sight translate them, and the patient will likely not remember what you’ve read to them!

But if these lengthy documents aren’t appropriate for sight translation, how can we make these documents accessible for the people we interpret for? Absent translated educational materials in the patient’s language, NCIHC offers some alternatives:

alternatives such as interpreting a provider’s oral presentation of the content of a written text and asking a patient or guardian to write down information they want to retain, or making an audio recording

NCIHC Sight Translation and Written Translation: Guidelines for Healthcare Interpreters (page 9)

To be clear, these recommendations are provided generally, not just for patient educational materials. However, I personally feel these recommendations are most appropriate for patient education materials. A patient will likely not be interested in taking notes on a hospital’s notice of privacy practices or patient rights and responsibilities.

So, just like we can interpret a provider’s (or other staff member’s) explanation of other lengthy documents, so too can we interpret a provider’s explanation of lengthy educational materials. Notes can be taken by the patient or guardian if they are willing and able, and the same goes for audio recordings. However, it is incredibly important to follow institutional policies regarding video/audio recording in healthcare facilities and always check with the provider about the patient recording you. It is also advisable to check with your supervisor or interpreting agency to see if there are any policies that prohibit this. Needless to say, medical interpreters should also follow all relevant patient privacy laws, such as HIPAA.

This busy waiting area is probably not an appropriate place to make a recording of a provider’s explanation of patient education materials. The recording will likely include bits and pieces of all the conversations happening around you. You might inadvertently record PHI (protected health information) under HIPAA!

Even if lengthy patient educational materials are not appropriate for sight translation, they can be a great source of practice for medical interpreters! They can help us learn about medical conditions, how different bodily systems function, and expose us to new vocabulary. I always say that sight translating patient education materials about a specific medical topic or specialty is a great way to test your familiarity with it!

So, if you’re looking for patient education materials to perform sight translations of, I highly recommend the Merck Manual. At first, you’ll be prompted to select the professional, consumer, or veterinary version. Unless you’re interpreting for veterinary appointments, you probably won’t need that last one!

The Professional Version is great practice for interpreting high-register (complex) medical terminology. These are the terms medical providers tend to use when talking to each other, but may also sometimes use with patients.

The Consumer Version is designed for patients, so it’s a good source of practice for interpreting low- to mid-register (less complex) medical terminology. These are the terms most providers will use when explaining health concepts to patients.

What I will often do when I find out I’m interpreting for a medical specialty or even a medical condition I’ve never interpreted for is look up a related topic on the Merck Manual under the consumer version in English. I will then perform a sight translation of the article and jot down any words I have difficulty interpreting or don’t understand.

Now, here’s where the ✨ 𝓂𝒶𝑔𝒾𝒸 ✨ happens. I will go to the top right hand corner of the page I just performed a sight translation of and look for the drop-down menu that says “SELECT LANGUAGE.”

After sight translating an article in the Merck Manual, I use the drop-down in the top right corner to select a different language.

I will then select the language I interpret (Spanish) and see if I made any glaring mistakes. These articles are NOT machine-translated! For more on how Merck translated their manual into Spanish, you can read this article about the Spanish version’s launch here.

❌ Legal Documents

The last category of documents the NCIHC says medical interpreters shouldn’t sight translate are legal documents. You might ask: what sorts of legal documents would a medical be asked to perform a sight translation of anyways? Consent forms are probably the type of legal document I am most often asked to sight translate, and politely decline. Some other types of legal documents medical interpreters should not perform a sight translation of are financial agreements and advance directives.

But why shouldn’t medical interpreters perform sight translations of these documents? Well, to begin with, these documents should be translated professionally, and medical interpreters (in the vast majority of cases) aren’t legal translators. These documents are often complex and it’s unlikely a patient will be able to understand or even retain any of the information that the interpreter just performed a sight translation of. Heck, English-speakers hardly understand or retain any of the information they read in these documents!

❌ Consent to Treat

As the NCIHC points out, The Joint Commission’s standards for obtaining informed consent, it is up to medical providers to make sure patients understand what they’re consenting to. Even if the consent form were translated (which health law emphasizes the importance of) the provider would still have to explain the procedure to the patient, answer their questions, and ensure they understand. A sight translation of a medical consent form, aside from being a bad idea for the reasons listed in the previous section, is not a substitute for the provider’s responsibility to explain and answer questions.

A sight translation of a medical consent form […] is not a substitute for the provider’s responsibility to explain and answer questions.

For an excellent description of informed consent by the National Cancer Institute (that is honestly a fantastic sight translation) click here!  While some of the forms I’ve provided you with below are generic, others are special forms for specific procedures. Regardless, all of these forms are provided for your reference as an example of consent forms that medical interpreters should refrain from sight translating.

[Cover photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash]

About the author

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

Kelly is a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. She work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical and mental health interpreter. Her passions include affirming interpretation for sexual and gender diverse populations, supporting interpreter mental health, and interpreting developmental-behavioral pediatrics.

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  • Hello! I need the medical consecutive interpretation exercises/ training. (English -Russian or Eng-Eng)). Manuals for note- taking.

KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

I am a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. I work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical interpreter. Click here to read more about me.

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