The demand for translation and interpreting services, including on-site, video, and phone interpreting, is on the rise in the U.S. Nowhere is this more evident than in the healthcare industry where language barriers can significantly affect patient outcomes.

Studies show that when compared with patients whose physicians speak their language, patients with limited English proficiency:

  • Receive less preventive care,
  • Are less likely to adhere to medication regimens, and
  • Are more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice.

To bridge this gap, it is prudent for hospitals and healthcare facilities to provide professional language services to non-English speaking patients and those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Not only is it prudent. It’s the law: Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) states that “providers must use qualified medical interpreters when treating LEP patients” and grants patients the right to “sue providers for language access violations.”

In addition to the healthcare industry, businesses including government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private companies recognize how important it is to provide immediate interpretation and clear communication for all. This article discusses the benefits and best practices for using phone interpreting.

Phone Interpreting Bridges Communication Gaps

One common way to ensure all stakeholders can communicate is by providing phone interpreting services. Phone interpretation is a specific language service that connects human interpreters via telephone to individuals who wish to speak to each other but do not share a common language. Using a three-way or conference calling system, the telephone interpreter converts the spoken language from one language to another in real time (or consecutively) enabling the two speakers to understand each other.

Telephone interpreting is especially useful in settings where two parties would communicate via telephone anyway, such as:

  • Customer service interactions between consumers and call centers,
  • Calls between the public and emergency telephone dispatchers, and
  • Communications to review over-the-phone applications.

Benefits of Phone Interpreting

As all industries becomes increasingly globalized, the ability to pick up the phone and speak to someone anywhere in the world becomes invaluable to doing business. But what are the specific benefits?


Customer support call centers are crucial resources in several industries including healthcare, medical device manufacturing, pharmaceutical sales, banking, and airlines. To meet the needs of every customer, call centers should be multilingual. Over-the-phone interpreting means that a customer can pick up the phone and receive answers regardless of his or her native language.

This quick and convenient way to solve a big communications barrier benefits both businesses and their clients. Imagine gaining access to an entire audience of people who were at one time beyond your reach. Phone interpreting is especially useful for offering support in rare languages, where finding a translator could prove more difficult. This service makes your products or services accessible to anyone.

Phone interpreting is easy to use too. Callers simply pick up the phone, dial a dedicated number, and follow a simple set of call instructions. Implementing a phone interpreting system requires no additional training for staff. Whether a customer wants more information about a product or your overseas employees need to quickly understand a key initiative for an urgent project, friendly, professional linguists are available to help.


In addition to being convenient, phone interpretation is extremely cost-effective. Rather than hiring on-site interpreters who may or may not be called into action on a given day, businesses can choose to retain the services of a third party ready to take customers’ calls 24/7. You only pay for time the service is being used. At DTS Language Services, our on-demand phone interpreting service is billed at a set rate. There are no additional charges for weekend or “off hours” calls.

Besides being a crucial tool for top-notch customer service, phone interpreting is useful for internal business communications too. Instead of having to foot the bill for an on-site interpreter at an hourly rate for that monthly business meeting, for instance, you or your employees can pick up the phone and have access to a whole range of multilingual services. Phone interpreting saves businesses time, money, and wasted effort.

Best Practices for Using Phone Interpretation

While there is no real substitute for face-to-face interpreting, with visual cues and nonverbal communication being important factors in any interaction, there are instances where telephonic interpretation is the next best solution.

Health care providers and hospitals use phone interpreting for many reasons including:

  • To register patients.
  • During emergencies.
  • For follow up phone calls.
  • To explain billing and collections.
  • To describe symptoms and cures to patients.
  • To provide reminders and schedule appointments.
  • For quick communications with LEP patients who stay in the hospital overnight and need medication.

However, there are several specific scenarios where on-site or in-person interpreting is preferred. These include situations involving:

  • Patients with speaking or hearing impairments making the use of a phone difficult.
  • Patients receiving mental counseling or other types of mental health care. Conducting such sensitive conversations over the phone is not advised.
  • Cases where there are several people involved in a conversation. It would be difficult for an interpreter to effectively understand the conversation and convey the message between more than two people.
  • A visual element that is key to communicating. An in-person interpreter is essential when a medical practitioner must do a physical exam, conduct a physical therapy session, or discuss body parts that have sustained injury or are causing the patient pain, for example.
  • Communication with children or the elderly. With the limited vocabulary of children, communicating by phone can prove to be very difficult. Often the elderly have hearing, cognitive, or physical challenges that make in-person communication preferrable.
  • Patients who have experienced trauma. Mental or physical abuse can make it difficult to communicate. It may take time and patience to coax victims to talk. So, having someone who speaks their language is crucial to communication.

Because it is not advisable to have family members or other unqualified staff act as a patient’s interpreter, health care facilities should contract with professional language providers for interpreting and translation services. These providers have the resources and qualified subject matter experts to provide the most accurate language support avoiding the risks of miscommunication.

Fortunately, phone interpreters are professional linguists, specially trained in critical listening and mental note taking. This training allows phone interpreters to listen to the source language and convey the message into the target language.

At DTS, our phone interpreters have a minimum of 3 years consecutive interpreting experience and sign a robust confidentiality agreement. So you can rest assured knowing that there is an on-demand, cost effective, and professional solution to language barriers. Contact us today to get started with phone interpreting!

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