Issues to consider when filling out forms

a. Medical providers need the medical intake forms in a language they can  understand. Typically, medical interpreters have been involved in this process,

b. Medical interpreters have a limited scope of practice. They are not expected to give medical advice (explain the meaning of medical terms, which can be construed as giving medical advice), or have side conversations (this can happen often while filling out forms).

c. Medical interpreters are called on to limit their activities to interpreting and protecting patient autonomy and promoting patient self determination, besides privacy in the waiting room. Forms contain very private information. Oral discussion of these issues in a public setting, where the discussion can be overheard by others, can easily violate these privacy concerns.

d. As a court interpreter and a medical interpreter, I have seen these forms be presented as evidence in depositions. They are, therefore, legal documents. I have discussed options for how to fill them out with doctors and with attorneys, and come up with practical alternatives that satisfy most of these concerns.

Practical steps for filling out forms with an LEP

1. Sight translate the form to the LEP, line by line. This is a one-way sight translation, English to Non-English language. The non-English speaker holds the pen and fills in the blanks. This promotes patient autonomy and privacy by keeping the answers private.

If the form is already translated, we generally assume that the office is prepared to deal with forms in foreign languages. This isn’t always the case. The translation step may still be needed.

This promotes respect and patient autonomy, according to standard #13 of the National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care, published by the National Council for Interpreters in Health Care (NC SOP #13)

The interpreter promotes patient autonomy

NCIHC Standard of Practice #13

2. When the questions have open-ended answers, have the LEP fill out the answer in their language. Immediately, next to the answer given by the LEP, write a draft translation into English for the provider’s use. I carry two pens, with different colors of ink, so my writing is in a different color from the LEP’s writing.

2.1. In the event that the LEP is unable to write, take dictation from the LEP and write the LEP’s answer in the LEP’s language, and write the English translation next to it.

The interpreter promotes direct communication among all parties in the encounter

NCIHC Standard of Practice #12

3. If there are any questions that require clarification, ask the staff to clarify the question and interpret the clarification. Otherwise, leave the answer blank with a question mark indicating that it needs clarification.

Some of the questions on the intake forms are very personal and may require some cultural intervention. What is the role of the interpreter here? I recommend that if there are questions the patient is reluctant to answer, the patient be allowed to leave them blank and the provider may bring them up in the interview. This promotes direct communication and patient autonomy.

“The Interpreter limits his or her professional activity to interpreting within an encounter.”

For example, an interpreter never advises a patient on health care questions, but redirects the patient to ask the provider.

NCIHC Standard of Practice #17

4. You should identify yourself as the interpreter as follows:


  • or

I have been found otherwise qualified by [ENTITY] to interpret in the [LANGUAGE] language.

I hereby certify under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of Oregon that I have

a) sight translated the [identify document] to [language]

b) interpreted the explanations of the [identify person] to [language]

c) written down the answers provided to me by the LEP [patient, defendant, petitioner, client, etc.] [if applicable]  [may include LEP’s name] per his request and provided a draft on the spot translation to the best of my ability.

Location: Place, City and County

Dated:  _______________________         Interpreter Signature:  ________________________________

Print Name & License or Certification #: _________________________________________________

LEP Name : _________________       LEP Signature: ______________________________________

This procedure should be satisfactory in most situations. In reality, this process is much briefer than filling the form out for the patient, because it avoids a lot of conversations!

If the form is already translated, we generally assume that the office is prepared to deal with forms in foreign languages. This isn’t always the case. The translation step may still be needed. Please verify with the receptionist. The LEP may still need assistance writing for a variety of reasons.