A new consent form is developed for interpreters

Language difficulties in health care usually are solved with the use of an interpreter, but one manager in Oklahoma realized that the interpreter could create new privacy and liability concerns. She solved the problem by developing a special consent form for use with a language interpreter.

The problem became apparent while watching an interpreter help a Spanish-speaking patient, says Glennda Gore, RHIA, director of health information services and privacy officer at McAlester (OK) Regional Health Center. Gore had been thinking about compliance issues related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), trying to spot risks within her organization. Most of her concern had focused on medical records, but then she overheard the interpreter helping a mother understand her treatment.

"It hit me that we were releasing information by using the interpreter, and we didn’t really have permission," Gore says. "The back and forth involves privileged information; and while sometimes the interpreter is a family member or nurse, sometimes it is a secretary or a housekeeper. We have to use whoever we can find that speaks the language."

Gore developed a standard consent form that is now used for any type of language interpretation. The top part of the form explains that the language interpreter will have access to private medical information during the interpretation process, but not to any medical records. The bottom part of the form repeats the same information in Spanish, the most common foreign language encountered at McAlester.

The form is presented to the patient before the language interpreter conveys any medical information, and the interpreter may help explain the form to the patient. Once the form is signed, the interpreter is free to discuss privileged medical issues. In addition to Spanish-speaking patients, the form is used for hearing-impaired patients who need sign language interpretation. If they are English-speaking, they can read the English portion of the form on their own and give consent.

The consent form could easily be adapted to any other language when necessary, Gore says.

The interpreter would have to translate the English portion into the other language, but Gore says the wording is simple enough that any interpreter should be able to do so.

"We drew it up ourselves and got legal to sign off on it. They had no problems with it," she says. "We provided the forms to our nursing staff and also to the admitting office. They pull it out any time they see the patient doesn’t speak English."

Gore says Healthcare Risk Management readers are free to reproduce the form and adapt it for their own use.