Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Interpreters at Mayo Clinic - What are the options?

5/28/2020 by Dr. Jane Njeru


In the various interactions between patients and their health care teams, clear and complete communication is vital. It is important that providers get an accurate and complete picture of each patient's concerns, and patients also need to be fully 'heard' and understood, as well as to comprehend fully the recommendations they receive from providers. 

In a country where many health care providers speak only English, patients who have limited English proficiency, defined as those who speak English less than very well, may require an interpreter for adequate communication with their health care teams. Interpreters serve a critical role in facilitating communication between two parties, not only in terms of language, but also in cultural terms. Their role is to convey the message accurately without adding, modifying, or deleting information. 

At Mayo Clinic, interpreters are available at no cost to assist with communication between health care providers and patients whose primary language is not English. Experienced medical interpreters attend appointments with patients (in-person or virtually), translate patient education materials, and offer other assistance as needed, including helping communicate appointment details and deliver test results to patients. Patients are usually asked to indicate if they need an interpreter at the time appointments are scheduled, which helps ensure that appropriate planning is done prior to the visit to facilitate the availability of an interpreter. 

Mayo Clinic offers appointments for patients in person, via video or phone. Interpreters are available to assist with each of these types of visits. While family members may be willing to assist with interpretation for the patient, best practices indicate that having a trained medical interpreter who is familiar with medical terminology is the ideal standard. Adequate communication is irreplaceable in the healing relationship between providers and health care teams. 

Dr. Jane Njeru is a general internist in Primary Care in Rochester/Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). She completed her medical school training at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and her residency in Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her interests include developing interventions to reduce health disparities, with special focus on patients with limited English proficiency, immigrants and refugees.