Information for Healthcare Workers and Providers

​We welcome inquiries from colleagues in other care environments.

To access policies and procedures and specific translated documents for use at UWMC please visit the UWMC Intranet.

Interpreting via an on-site interpreter, phone interpreter, or video interpreter
Language Help Lines at the Interpreter Services Office
Translation services and Document Adaptation Advice
Health Literacy Tools: Library of Non-Print-Based Patient Education Resources
Health Online: Patient Education Documents, Translated
Patient Navigation Support
Cultural Consultation
Equipment Assistance—Phones and Video
Equipment Assistance--Assistive Device Consultation and Support
Community Liaison
Training and Inservices for Staff and Providers

Interpreting via an on-site interpreter, phone interpreter, or video interpreter

UWMC uses a mix of modalities to provide language support. Criteria relating to the acuity of the clinical situation are used to assign the type of interpreting modality for each encounter. A particular encounter may be assigned an in-person interpreter, a video-remote interpreter, or a telephonic interpreter.

UWMC has 23 Medical Interpreters on staff, covering 15 languages. Staff interpreters go to some encounters in person, and they also interpret over the phone from the department office. Plans are underway to allow staff interpreters to interpret over an internal video network connecting the department office with the clinics and inpatient areas soon. 

Language Help Lines at the In​terpreter Services Office

In order to make sure that patients have assured access to their care teams via phone, Interpreter Services maintains separate language support telephone lines for all of our top patient language groups. We give patients the phone number of the language line for his language. He can call that number and leave a message for a staff interpreter, who will call him back and connect him with the care team member he is trying to reach. Interpreters follow up until the patient has succeeded in his goal for that contact, be it nurse advice, prescription refill, or making an appointment. Please see the Contact Us page for the specific numbers. 

Translation Services and Document Adaptation Advice

UWMC Interpreter Services takes an active role in promoting the translation of patient materials into our top languages. There are three main categories of materials which require translation:
  • patient education materials, such as pamphlets about diabetes or hip surgery
  • process documents, such as consent forms, patient history forms, and appointment letter templates
  • individualized letters for patients, such as medication instruction sheets, reports on their pathology, or response to their complaints

Interpreter Services collaborates with the Patient and Family Education Services (PFES) department on the first category of materials, the patient education pieces. PFES works with clinical teams to create education pieces in English, then arranges for translations to be done either by translation agencies or by UWMC translators. Care teams are encouraged to request translations from either PFES or Interpreter Services. Health Online Translations is a great resource as well.

Process documents are translated by Interpreter Services. We encourage all staff who hand or send written material to patients to check the language status of the recipient and to provide the material in the appropriate language. We work closely with care teams to create translated materials for them. There are special requirements for consent forms and for documents which need to be scanned into the medical record. Sometimes it works best to translate documents and forms in dual language format, in which the material shows in both English and the target language, line by line. Sometimes it works best to translate the entire document in one chunk, and then present the patient with both the English and the translated versions. (UWMC colleagues please email us with requests for translations or advice:

Individualized patient documents can make the difference in a patient’s ability to carry out complex care instructions or in his ability to take control of his situation. While translating documents is expensive and consumes resources, there are some situations in which we feel it is critical to do this. For example, we always translate the multi-page discharge medication instructions for transplant patients if they are literate in their own language. We translate letters to patients from Risk Management, Patient Relations, or providers trying to reinforce an important message to the patient in writing. (UWMC colleagues please email us with requests for translations or advice:

Health Literacy Tools: Library of Non-Print-Based Patient Education Resources

Interpreter Services sits on the Patient and Family Education Cmte in order to improve communication and learning for all patients, not just for immigrant and Deaf patients. Approximately 40% of all Americans are functionally illiterate. Many people who are literate will also not make the effort to read instructions or information if they are sick, worried, sedated, confused, tired, or distracted.

The Library of Non-Print-Based Patient Education Materials, new in 2012 and growing every day, consists of a listing of educational tools that health workers can use when teaching their patients. The tools include posters, laminated cards, 3D anatomical models, 3D simulation models such as an ostomy torso, talking or alarmed pill bottles, interactive kits such as sets of fake food, and audio and audio-visual versions of patient education material. The listing includes contact information, comments on how to use the items, and price if known. The purpose of the Library is to let health workers know what is available out in the marketplace so that they can either purchase items that would be useful in their practice OR create their own materials once they see some examples created by colleagues.
You can see the Library in its early stages:
  • The complete Library (MS Excel), be sure to check the first two worksheets.
  • Key pages from the Library:  The Master page (PDF), which shows items by type of resource, and the URL page (PDF), which shows online sources for items.

Health on Line: Patient Education Documents, Translated

Health Online is a rich collection of patient education documents which were developed at UWMC by clinical teams in collaboration with the Patient and Family Education Services department. In English there are thousands of documents, all now available to the public at no cost. Many of these pamphlets have been translated into one or more languages, depending on which language groups have the greatest need of them. Use the Translations tab to access the alphabetized list of translated documents. 

Patient Navigation Support

The expectation is that every care team at UWMC identifies possible barriers to care for their patients, and takes active steps to help the patients circumvent the barriers. Care teams should explain UWMC and general healthcare processes to their patients, and should be alert to the need for extra help. Interpreters assist with these efforts, both by alerting care teams to possible or actual barriers for patients, and by assisting patients directly in getting their needs met.

Interpreter Services collaborates actively with clinics, inpatient units, and ancillary care units to identify and eliminate barriers to care for immigrants, Deaf and blind patients, and for patients with other special needs. We are active in promoting non-print-based methods of communication, for all of our patients with low literacy skills. 

Cultural Consultation

UWMC care teams often find that a particular patient is not engaging in the care process or is not comfortable with the usual care process. Interpreter Services is able to assist in finding culturally sensitive ways to engage the patient and support his needs and preferences. We recommend asking the patient what his goals are for his care, both long-term and short-term, and adjusting our care plan to align with his stated goals. Contact us at

Equipment Assistance—Phones and Video

In order to provide language support on demand, UWMC uses telephonic and video modalities for many encounters, and almost always for unanticipated or unscheduled encounters. For telephonic and video interpreting to be effective and accepted by patients and care teams, the equipment needs to be optimal.

Interpreter Services works closely with each care team to provide phone equipment appropriate to the care processes and physical care environment in their area. We are able to provide phones that work at inpatient bedsides, in surgical areas, at front desks, and in outpatient clinic exam rooms. For more information on the options available, use the UWMC Intranet.

UWMC has used video remote interpreting as an available modality in the ER for over five years, primarily for sign language. In 2011, Interpreter Services began the process of designing an in house video interpreting capability, in which staff interpreters will interpret from video booths for patients out in the clinics or other care areas. This will allow highly skilled staff interpreters to “be there” for vulnerable patients, while not wasting the time now spent taking a shuttle between different parts of campus. 

Equipment Assistance—Assistive Equipment Consultation and Support

Many patients require assistive technology as they move through the health care environment. Interpreter Services has committed to identifying these many needs and finding technical solutions to them. We encourage all care teams to identify barriers to care in their areas and consult with us on ways to support their patients. Some of the examples of assistive technology or alternate practices that we have instituted include:

  • The Interpretype™ typing and display device to allow a staff person and a patient to type to each other.
  • Pocketalkers®, small personal amplification devices which allow a patient to hear what care team members are saying without being shouted at.
  • Braille conversion for patient documents, done by an outside source.
  • Provision of patient education or administrative documents in electronic Word format to blind patients who have a talking screen reader or Braille writer at home.
  • Whiteboards and markers for patients and care teams to use to write to each other.

Community Liaison

UWMC Interpreter Services makes a specific effort to identify barriers to care that particular language groups or other groups encounter in our system. Sometimes a barrier may consist of a perception in the community that UWMC has a certain approach to care which is not comfortable to that community. We make contact with organized and unorganized representatives of these communities in order to build relationships and better understand the communities’ needs. We encourage both community members and care team members to engage with each other over issues of concern, and we welcome being included in these exchanges. 

Training and Inservices for Staff and Providers

Training and Inservices on Equal Access, Disparities in Care, and Language Support, including direct links to learning materials

The Interpreter Services department has developed numerous conceptual and practical presentations for health care personnel, all of which are available free for (non-commercial) educational use, through the links below. In addition, materials which have been developed privately by department staff are also available free for (non-commercial) educational use. We do ask that attributions and content are kept intact, and that copyright is respected.

Contact if you would like to schedule a training or inservice on any of these topics.