• Alysa Salzberg

What medical interpreters can’t do

We know that medical interpreters are important – even an essential to patients who don’t speak the local language but need accurate information and proper care. Still, as this short essay by Dr. Mikkael Sekeres reminds us, doctors can’t rely solely on interpreters.


Sekeres shares a very moving story about communicating with a patient about a serious diagnosis. The patient only spoke Cantonese, while Sekeres speaks English, and so they used a telephone-like device that connected them to a live interpreter. The interpreter was able to quickly and accurately communicate what Sekeres and his patient needed to say – but there was more to the conversation than that. Just as important as that voice on the phone, maybe even more so, are the looks the doctor and patient exchanged, from concerned, to compassionate, to reassuring.


Countless studies and healthcare resources like this one have shown that, like clear communication, bedside manner is a vital part of patient care. Stories like Dr. Sekeres’ is a powerful testament to that.


Read on for Dr. Sekeres’ moving story.




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