Discussion paper

Our stories, our voices: culturally diverse consumer perspectives on the role of accredited interpreters in Victoria’s health services

27 Mar 2017

In 2016, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) Policy Advisory Committee on Health and Wellbeing (PACHW) discussed increasing concerns by health services and multicultural advocates regarding the low levels of awareness among culturally diverse communities about the role and engagement of accredited interpreters.

ECCV decided to prioritise this important issue, especially in light of the Victorian Government’s current review of the language services sector. A Consumer Perspectives on Accredited Interpreters in Victoria's Healthcare working group was formed to plan and undertake consultations which culminated in the release of this discussion paper.

'Our Stories, Our Voices' assesses the current understanding within culturally diverse communities of the role of accredited interpreters within Victoria’s health care system. In particular, the paper examines whether culturally diverse consumers are aware of, know how to access and recognise the importance of interpreting services when using health services.    

To better understand the issues, ECCV in partnership with a number of member organisations undertook extensive community consultations with culturally and linguistically diverse health consumers. These consultations comprised a questionnaire used at two large public health services, an online survey and a focus group conducted by ECCV.

The consultation findings show that although a majority of respondents found it hard to communicate with health professionals in English, many are still unaware of the role and importance of using accredited interpreters. Some said they preferred a family member to interpret for them, seemingly unaware of the associated risks of miscommunication and adverse health outcomes. A substantial number of participants did not know there was a service available or believed they would have to pay for it. Many were equally unaware about their right to access an accredited interpreter and that interpreters are bound by a Code of Ethics. Worryingly, the results also suggest that not all health services offer interpreters to all consumers who need one and that some providers still lack the knowledge of how to book them. Consultation findings also highlight the importance of interpreters having sufficient medical knowledge and being appropriately qualified for working in health settings.

The report concludes that a number of gaps and barriers to equitable health care for culturally diverse consumers remain unaddressed. Further improvements to the availability, accessibility and quality of interpreting services will be paramount to achieve culturally responsive, person-centred and consumer-directed health care services.

Recommendations in this report include the development of an awareness-raising campaign to promote the role and engagement of accredited interpreters. This includes supporting culturally diverse consumers and their families and carers and service providers to become more knowledgeable about how to access and engage interpreting services and to understand their importance in reaching better health outcomes.

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