HIPAA Compliance for Medical Interpreters

Medical Interpreters serve as the middle ground between patients and doctors. But how does HIPAA apply to them?

What is a Medical Interpreter? 

For doctors and healthcare professionals, their job is to use their skills to address the concerns of patients by providing a solution or treatment to the problem. It is not uncommon that healthcare providers are looking to fulfill this role but can’t since they are not able to communicate with patients who don’t speak the same language or are deaf. In these situations in order for proper care to be provided for the patient, someone needs to step in and help the two parties communicate, which is where medical interpreters come in.

Medical interpreters step in to help the patient and doctor understand each other and guarantee that information is being accurately shared and questions are able to be answered. Most patients would agree that medical settings can be intimidating even without a language barrier, so interpreters are important to assure that these specific patients receive the care that they need. 

Beyond just language itself, there are often cultural differences between patients and those providing care so medical interpreters can also alleviate some additional worries they may have due to their cultural background. For these patients and the healthcare workers providing care for them, medical interpreters are entirely essential. 

Do Medical Interpreters need to be HIPAA compliant?

One of the aspects of HIPAA that people commonly have questions about is who exactly falls under HIPAA and has to comply with all of its requirements and restrictions. The simple answer is that any person or organization who has the potential to come into contact with protected health information must be trained on HIPAA and must comply with it. Protected health information can be defined as any medical information that is created or used in the course of healthcare services that can lead to a person being identified. 

Since medical interpreters are the communication middle ground between patients and doctors, they certainly interact with this type of information in the course of their job and are therefore required to be HIPAA compliant. Under HIPAA, organizations are classified as either covered entities or business associates. A covered entity directly provides a care or service whereas a business associate doesn’t work for the hospital but provides a service on behalf of the covered entity. In this instance, medical interpreters would serve as a business associate which means that the covered entity may share this PHI with the interpreter as necessary to fulfill the need. They are also expected to sign a business associate agreement (BAA) so that they maintain liability in the event of a breach of PHI on their behalf. 


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