When a doctor performs an independent medical examination (IME) on a patient who speaks limited or no English, professional medical interpreting is especially important to make a complete diagnosis.
Without it, a correct IME diagnosis could be MIA.
In order to achieve the most accurate communication between doctor and patient, all parties involved should understand the role and responsibilities of the interpreter.
What Is an Independent Medical Examination?
An independent medical examination takes place when a person suffers an injury and claims that another party is responsible. Typically performed at the behest of a court or insurance company, the goal of an IME is to determine the cause and necessary treatment of the injury in question.
The sufferer of the injury is sent to an independent physician to determine if the injury is real, as serious as claimed and not caused by a separate incident. This is done to prevent any fraud and protect the party that’s being held liable for the injury.
Because IMEs are performed by doctors without an existing relationship with the patient, communication during an IME is paramount. A physician needs to be able to ask all the necessary questions and understand every detail given by the patient if they’re to come to the proper diagnosis.
What Is the Role of the Interpreter in an IME?
A professional medical interpreter facilitates accurate communication between doctor and patient. During an IME, this process operates under certain constraints due to the legal ramifications of the examination.
A professional medical interpreter in an IME will accurately and completely render what is said — but only exactly what is said. They never add, omit or substitute anything from the dialogue. Even if one party has trouble understanding the other and requests clarification, an interpreter may only interpret this request and the subsequent response. Interpreters should never clarify what is said on their own.
A professional medical interpreter must also respect a patient’s privacy rights before, during and after interpreting. Like a doctor, the interpreter is bound by privacy laws and cannot discuss a patient’s information with anyone — including family members — without the patient’s written consent.
By interpreting verbatim only what is said by both parties and working to ensure the patient’s privacy, a professional medical interpreter maintains accurate communication between doctor and patient during an IME.
How Does Interpreting Work During an IME?
Medical interpreting in an IME is usually performed consecutively. In consecutive interpreting, one party speaks, then the interpreter interprets his or her speech. The other party then responds after the interpreter is finished, and so on.
When working with a medical interpreter during an independent medical examination, doctors should take care to always address the patient — not the interpreter — when speaking. They should speak at a reasonable pace and in manageable chunks of information to help keep communication less complicated and easier for the patient and interpreter to understand.
When speaking to a patient through a medical interpreter, a doctor should also take care to avoid thinking out loud. As the interpreter’s job is to interpret everything that is spoken, it’s important to stay focused on the discussion at hand to keep communication clear.
Examining physicians should keep in mind that IMEs are often performed as part of ongoing litigation, so the interpreter will not elaborate or paraphrase anything said by either party. This direct, exacting method of interpreting may be jarring to a physician unfamiliar with this process, but if the doctor expects this style of interaction, he or she can ask questions in a suitably interpreter-friendly manner.
Keeping dialogue focused on the patient and his or her diagnosis should help the IME proceed smoothly. By understanding the methods and requirements of medical interpreting during an IME, a doctor and patient can be more confident in reaching an accurate diagnosis.