Navigating Language Barriers: A Guide to Using Interpreters in Physiotherapy

Apr 25, 2024

What do our professional and regulatory bodies (HCPC,CSP and GOsC) say about interpreters?


CSP Quality Assurance Standards


Offer the service user an interpreter where appropriate


CSP Frontline Article I October 2023


“The use of interpreters in private practice has been a hot topic.Speaking a different language is not a protected characteristic and is not subject to equality law .And while the NHS must provide interpreters sole practitioners are not obliged to. Should a patient seek to enter your service and they require an interpreter you can ask them to bring their own along. They are paying for your service as a physiotherapist and should they require an additional service, it is up to them to provide it. Some physiotherapists have used online translation services – but this is personal choice.”

HCPC Standards of Proficiency

7.6 understand the need to support the communication needs of service users and carers, such as through the use of an appropriate interpreter


GOsC Practice Standards A3

If you propose to examine or treat a patient who has difficulty communicating or

understanding, you should take all reasonable steps to assist them. For example,

make use of an appropriate interpreter if the patient communicates in a different

language to you. If you are unable to communicate sufficiently with the patient,

you should not treat them.


So what do you think as a private practitioner? Would you expect the patient to bring a professional interpreter along? Would you provide one? Would you use Language Line or an app? Who would pay for it?

See *below for a suggested list of interpreter services

Language should never be a barrier to quality healthcare. Yet, communication challenges can arise when patients and healthcare providers do not speak the same language. In such cases, the use of interpreters becomes essential to ensure effective communication and the delivery of safe, patient-centered care.

Why Use Interpreters in Healthcare?

Language barriers can lead to misunderstandings, misdiagnoses, and compromised patient safety. Utilising trained interpreters helps bridge these gaps, ensuring accurate communication between healthcare providers and patients. Interpreters facilitate understanding and uphold patient confidentiality and cultural sensitivity.

When to Use Interpreters:

During assessment and treatment: Interpreters should be present to accurately convey patient symptoms, medical history, and treatment plans. This ensures that patients fully understand their condition and treatment options.

Informed Consent: Interpreters play a crucial role in obtaining informed consent from patients for treatment. They ensure that patients comprehend the risks, benefits, and alternatives and the option to decline treatment before making decisions about their care.

Using family members as interpreters in healthcare settings is generally discouraged for several reasons:

Confidentiality Concerns: Family members may not adhere to strict confidentiality standards, potentially compromising the privacy of the patient’s medical information. They may unintentionally disclose sensitive information to other family members or individuals not involved in the patient’s care.

Bias and Conflict of Interest: Family members may have personal biases or agendas that influence their interpretation of medical information. This can lead to misunderstandings or miscommunications between healthcare providers and patients, affecting the quality of care.

Lack of Professional Training: Family members typically lack formal training in interpretation techniques and medical terminology. As a result, they may struggle to accurately convey complex medical information, leading to errors or misunderstandings.

Emotional Impact: In emotionally charged situations, such as discussions about diagnosis and treatment options, family members may struggle to maintain objectivity. Their emotional involvement may hinder effective communication between healthcare providers and patients.

Role Conflict: Family members may feel conflicted between their roles as caregivers and interpreters, potentially compromising their ability to objectively advocate for the patient’s best interests

Family members may be well-intentioned and may offer to assist in interpretation out of a desire to help, however using trained professional interpreters is essential for ensuring accurate, confidential, and culturally sensitive communication in healthcare settings. Professional interpreters adhere to strict ethical standards and are trained to navigate complex medical discussions effectively, ultimately promoting better patient outcomes and experiences.


How to Use Interpreters Effectively:

1. Qualified Interpreters: Utilise trained interpreters who are proficient in both the patient’s language and medical terminology. Avoid using family members or untrained staff as interpreters, as this can compromise accuracy and confidentiality.

2. Preparation: Provide interpreters with relevant medical information and context before consultations or procedures. This helps them accurately convey information and ensures that they are familiar with the medical terminology involved.

3. Clear Communication: Healthcare providers should speak clearly and at a moderate pace to facilitate interpretation. Allow time for interpretation between exchanges and avoid using jargon or complex language that may be difficult to translate.

4. Cultural Sensitivity: Respect cultural differences and nuances when working with interpreters and patients from diverse backgrounds. Be open to learning about patients’ cultural beliefs and practices to provide culturally competent care.

5. Cultural and Linguistic Barriers: Even if family members are fluent in both languages, they may not be proficient in medical terminology or cultural nuances relevant to healthcare communication. This can result in inaccurate interpretation or misunderstandings, particularly in complex medical situations.


In a multicultural society, effective communication is essential for delivering quality healthcare to all patients. By recognising the importance of interpreters and employing them appropriately, healthcare providers can ensure that language barriers do not compromise patient safety or access to care.

Remember, effective communication is the cornerstone of compassionate and patient-centred healthcare.

*The list below is not comprehensive. HCPG does not endorse or recommend any provider. These are samples to start your research. The web will provide far more. It is worth noting that several local authorities provide interpreter services but they often need to be arranged in advance,

Note that Google Translate stores information in the cloud and is not confidential
Certified Translation Services
Boostlingo for Healthcare Organizations
Healthcare Translation Services – LanguageLine UK
Absolute Translations

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