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Towards a collaborative structure of interpreter-mediated medical consultations: Complementing functions between healthcare interpreters and providers

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Cristina Alvaro Aranda, Raquel Lazaro Gutierrez, Shuangyu Li

Original languageEnglish
Article number113529
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
PublishedJan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This publication was made possible thanks to a FPI grant from the University of Alcal?. Funding Information: This publication was made possible thanks to a FPI grant from the University of Alcalá . Publisher Copyright: © 2020 Elsevier Ltd Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


In today's multilingual and multicultural societies, healthcare interpreters are increasingly needed to mitigate communication barriers in language-discordant, intercultural medical consultations. To orient these interactions, existing guidelines, best practices and recommendations shed light on the behaviour and responsibilities of interpreters and healthcare providers involved. These documents, however, mainly treat both professionals as individuals that take care of separate, unrelated dimensions of consultations, thus failing to address how they can work collaboratively. This seems to be particularly relevant if we consider that prescriptive documents advocate for an invisible interpreter rather than an active participant, consequently ignoring the positive functions interpreters are playing when they step out of their prescribed roles. In this context, this paper sets out to explore potential collaboration between both professional groups to improve communication as a whole. Drawing on Goffman's production format (1981), we examined excerpts from real interpreter-mediated medical consultations that took place at a public hospital in Madrid (Spain) over a period of five months (February–June 2017). Data analysis reveals that interpreters enact an author role as main participants of consultations and serve several functions in medical encounters, consequently sharing some of the responsibilities which are conventionally seen as doctors'. This may reveal potential areas of interest for interprofessional collaboration. In addition to interpreting, participants performed other clinical functions, thus accounting for complementary functions of that performed by healthcare providers. Interpreters act as clinical and therapeutic allies, patient empowerers and metalinguistic negotiators. In light of our findings, the next step is to design a new model for the interpreter-mediated medical consultations that integrates both perspectives in a collaborative, non-excluding proposal.

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