UHN Medical Interpreters


Imagine falling ill in a foreign country where you don’t speak the native language. You go to the hospital where you cannot understand a single word the physician is saying and they cannot understand you. What would you do? How would you communicate what’s wrong? How would you know if you were being understood?
This can be the reality for many individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) who come to our hospitals. Fortunately, Interpretation and Translation Services at the University Health Network (UHN) is revolutionizing medical interpreting in Canada by integrating technology to serve more patients using fewer resources.
Effective communication is essential to provide safe, effective health care. Patients with LEP have difficulty describing their symptoms, understanding their care provider’s questions, diagnosis information and instructions, and especially medication instructions. The language barrier increases the risk of medical error, unnecessary admissions and overutilization of emergency services.  
“The use of trained Medical Interpreters reduces the risk of medical errors and has been shown to improve patient outcomes, which ultimately reduces health-care costs,” says Elizabeth Abraham, Manager, Interpretation and Translation Services, UHN. “In an emergency, a Medical Interpreter can save a patient’s life.”
Medical Interpreters are qualified language professionals who are trained to work in health-care settings. Research over the last 10 years has demonstrated that professional Medical Interpreters improve quality of care and safety for LEP patients. 
Unfortunately, there are not enough qualified Medical Interpreters in Toronto to meet the demand for service, particularly when patients often need language support on short notice or after hours.
At UHN, a successful pilot project led to the integration of phone interpretation service throughout the hospital.  In a three-month period, 2535 patients received language support and the overall costs of providing interpretation service decreased by 25 per cent.
In November, UHN launched the first hospital Interpretation Call Centre in Canada.  Phones throughout the hospital are on direct dial to the Interpretation Call Centre, where staff are serving patients in the most requested languages (Cantonese, Mandarin and Portuguese).  Calls for other languages are routed automatically to an external vendor of phone interpretation services.
“UHN is committed to providing safe, high quality care for all patients, regardless of the language they speak,” says Emma Pavlov, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, who is responsible for language services at UHN.
The UHN Interpretation Call Centre reduces costs while improving quality of care and health equity.

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