A linguistic barrier between healthcare professional and patient is a challenging experience for both parties. In many cases, the absence of formally trained medical interpreters necessitates that an informal interpreter, drawn from the immediate environment, be used to facilitate communication. While the presence of an interpreter in a medical interview raises many questions about the effectiveness of the communication between healthcare professional and patient, it also gives rise to new speculations revolving on patient rights, medical ethics and patient privacy. In this article we examine the concept of communication competency in medical interviews, as well as translation theory, and link these theories to Western medical ethics in order to identify potential areas in which informal interpretation could impact on the patient.
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