For Patients and Families

Welcome to University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC)

UWMC provides medical care to people from all over the United States and from many parts of the world. We value our diverse community of patients and families.

The Interpreter Services program provides more than direct language support. In addition to interpretation and translation, we collaborate with all of our clinical units to develop culturally appropriate processes and materials. Many of our patients speak English but appreciate being able to express goals and preferences to their care team in their native language.

Our department welcomes comments and suggestions from all patients and families regarding which processes and materials work well for them, and which could be improved. We are particularly committed to developing more effective ways of communicating back and forth between care teams and patients. Our email address is: intrpsvc@uw.edu.

This page has information about our many services.

Interpretation
Translation
Language Assistance Lines
Reminder Calls
Patient Navigation
Culturally Appropriate Care



Interpretation: Helping the Patient to Speak Directly with the Care Team

UWMC provides language support for patients who do not speak English well enough to discuss their health care effectively. UWMC uses highly qualified medical interpreters. The interpreters may assist at patient visits by coming in person, or they may assist over the telephone or over a video screen. Some interpreters are staff at UWMC, while many others come from agencies. Our telephonic and video agencies provide us with outstanding support by tapping dedicated medical interpreters all over the continent.

All medical interpreters helping UWMC patients are considered part of the care team. They are committed to assisting the patient to meet his health care goals. They are dedicated to protecting the patient’s dignity and privacy.

UWMC provides both high-risk care and lower risk, routine care. The Interpreter Services Coordinators assign interpreters to the highest risk situations throughout every day. Sometimes that means that an interpreter who is assisting in a clinic visit will be withdrawn from that assignment and sent to the Emergency Room or to the Delivery Room. We know that our patients will appreciate that the sickest patients will receive the most intense language support.

The UWMC Medical Interpreter has a defined role. He or she is expected to:
  • Introduce himself to the provider and patient.
  • Inform the patient how to navigate through the system and get things done.
  • Encourage the patient to ask the provider any questions he has about his condition or his treatment.
  • Observe professional boundaries with patients.
  • Inform hospital staff and doctors about available language resources such as translations.
  • Contribute suggestions about how to make communication between patient and provider more effective and respectful.
  • Contribute suggestions on how the care team can use culturally respectful ways of discussing difficult subjects.

Translation: Written Documents in Other Languages, also Non-Print-Based Information

UWMC is committed to patient safety and patient satisfaction. Since 2000, UWMC has translated many of the common forms used throughout the system, as well as many of the excellent patient education pamphlets written by our doctors and nurses.

Consent forms, patient history forms, maps, language communication cards, pain charts, and so on, are available in some languages. Patients are encouraged to ask staff whether there is a translated version of the forms that they are given in English. 

Since 2011, the patient education translations have been available to the general public on Health Online Translations. These documents describe medical conditions and treatments that patients may have.Translations on HOL can be sorted by language to find all available materials in a particular language. Each pamphlet prints with the foreign language translation and the English original together as one document.

UWMC also translates certain types of care instructions for specific patients, such as long lists of complicated medication instructions for transplant patients.

Many patients and families prefer to not have to read information. UWMC Interpreters Services works with the Patient and Family Education Services program to promote non-print-based information for patients. Many UWMC clinics and care teams are beginning to use anatomical models, posters, pictures, interactive kits, and video demonstrations to show patients information about their conditions and treatments. Patients may ask their care teams to illustrate their explanations. 

Language Assistance Lines: Staff Interpreters Assist Patients in Reaching their Care Team by Phone

For the following languages, Interpreter Services has special phone numbers that patients can call to get an interpreter to help them reach their care team by phone:

Spanish206.598.4681
Russian206.598.7807
Vietnamese 206.598.4330
Korean206.598.4314
Mandarin 206.598.5299
Cantonese206.598.4276
Farsi 206.598.4313
Arabic206.598.7261

For example, if a patient needs to speak with a clinic nurse, care coordinator, receptionist, financial specialist, or pharmacist, he can call his Language Assistance Line. There with be a message in his language telling him to leave a message with call-back information. An interpreter will usually be able to call back within one business day to assist with speaking to his care team. 

Language Assistance Lines should NOT be used in emergencies or in urgent situations.

For urgent or emergent situations, or for people who speak languages other than the 7 languages named above, our Interpreter Coordinators provide the bridge to connect the patient with the care team. The patient should call the Interpreter Services main phone number: 206.598.4425. The Coordinator will need to know whether it is an emergency and what language is needed. The Coordinator will conference in an interpreter on the phone, who will then assist the patient in speaking with the care team. This service is available from 7 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, except on holidays.

Note: We encourage patients to call their clinic or other hospital contact numbers directly in order to get their business taken care of. If an interpreter is needed, the patient should clearly say “interpreter” and the language that is needed. It is important for the hospital to get feedback from patients if they have any difficulties in getting their needs met directly, so any comments regarding difficulties can be emailed or phoned to us at intrpsvc@uw.edu or 206.598.4425.

Reminder Calls: Helping the Patient to Prepare for a Successful Visit

Interpreter Services makes a reminder call to every patient two business days before a scheduled appointment, for languages that we have staff interpreters. The staff interpreter making the reminder call will make sure that the patient knows how to get to the hospital or clinic, where to park, and what to bring. It is always important to bring a photo ID, all current medications, and proof of insurance.

If there is a deductible or copay due, the necessary payment should be brought. If there is paperwork which needs to be filled out for the visit, this should be completed or at least reviewed, and the paperwork brought with to the visit, to make the visit successful.

Common forms have been translated into our top languages, and patients may request the translations.

If the visit is for a procedure, the patient may need to be properly prepared or dressed for the procedure. If the patient is not sure how to prepare for the encounter, the interpreter can connect the patient with the care team for clear answers.

Note
: If the patient does not answer the phone when the interpreter makes the reminder call, only a very general message will be left on the answering machine or with a family member who answers the call. No mention is made of the specific clinic or of any confidential medical information.

Patient Navigation: Where to Go and How to Get Things Done

The American health care system is complex. Patients often appreciate help in understanding how to access services, as well as how to get each piece of care accomplished successfully.

Interpreters are happy to provide assistance to patients in identifying who in the care system they need to talk with, and how to follow through with each process. When a patient tells an interpreter that he has bumped up against a barrier to getting his needs met, the interpreter will encourage the patient to tell his care team about this barrier at the earliest opportunity. Often the only way that care teams know that patients are having difficulty is when the patients point out the problems quite explicitly.

UWMC offers several useful navigation guides. Each is available in English as well as in a growing number of other languages. These are available on Health on Line, through these links:

Culturally Appropriate Care: Building the Treatment Plan around the Patient’s Needs and Preferences

The care team is able to design treatment options that will work for the patient, once they understand his situation from his point of view. Interpreter Services promotes the practice of asking each patient what he or she wants and expects from his care here, and then providing care which matches the patient’s goals. Because the patient must participate fully in taking care of himself in order to get well or to stay well, it is important for the patient and family to remain in close agreement with their care team on how to proceed.

In order to improve our care for patients, Interpreter Services solicits information from patients about what would make their health care more suitable for them. We share this information with our colleagues as we think about how to serve our patients and communities better. Please email us with suggestions at intrpsvc@uw.edu.