How do health professionals decide whether an interpreter is needed for families in neonatal and pediatric units?

Liz Jones, Nicola Sheeran, Rachyl Pines, Bradley Saunders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To examine how health professionals decide whether family members require an interpreter. Methods: 69 health professionals, doctors, nurses, and allied health, from neonatal and pediatric units participated. Interviews used a verbal protocol analysis, which elicited their thoughts about using interpreters, including how they decided if an interpreter was needed. Results: Five themes captured the decision-making process health professionals use. Of these, three themes described the goals and beliefs participants brought to their interactions with family members: Ensuring understanding, Addressing socioemotional needs, and Who decides. The theme Assessing understanding was prominent within the interaction, while the final theme was Contextual factors influencing decision making. No differences were found between mono and multilingual participants, and few differences between health professional groups. Conclusion: Health professionals find it difficult to assess whether a family member needs an interpreter and there is no consistency in how they make this decision, with some using heuristics and others a more systematic approach. Health professionals have beliefs about the purpose of an interpreter that potentially limit the voice of family members. Practice implications: Health professionals need training to assist them in decisions about whether an interpreter is needed, including a decision tool and knowledge about policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1629-1635
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision-making
  • Health communication
  • Interpreter

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