Using interpreters to communicate critical pharmacy advice

The Department of Social Services (DSS) has released further information to support pharmacists in their use of the Free Interpreting Service available to community pharmacies or pharmacists.

The service expansion allows pharmacists and other pharmacy staff to communicate with patients who have limited levels of English proficiency while providing essential pharmacy services and health and retail advice through the use of interpreters in more than 160 languages.

The Free Interpreting Service provided by the DSS engages interpreters credentialed by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters who can help communicate critical healthcare information in the pharmacy setting. The Free Interpreting Service aims to provide equitable access to key services for people with limited or no English language proficiency. It may also help in reducing the incidence of medication misadventure.

Interpreters are bound by the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators Code of Ethics, requiring them to maintain confidentiality and interpret information accurately, honestly and with impartiality.

A language policy spokesperson from DSS told Australian Pharmacist that using interpreters is important for practitioners as well as clients.

‘It helps to protect practitioners from professional risk and is particularly important when dealing with complexity, in a crisis, seeking informed consent (such as for immunisation), and checking if a client has understood critical information,’ they said.

‘We welcome feedback from pharmacists and encourage them to contact our service provider, TIS National with any feedback they have about using the service’.

Tips for pharmacy staff using the interpreting service:

  •      Take the patient to a quiet area with privacy and minimal background noise.
  •      Use a speaker phone and face your patient.
  •      After you have introduced yourself to the interpreter and explained the nature of the call, ask your patient if they can understand the interpreter.
  •      Talk to your patient, not the interpreter.
  •      Speak clearly with short sentences, and pause often to allow for the interpreter to speak.
  •      Use non-verbal reassurance.
  •      If the consultation will take longer than 30 minutes, provide a short break for the interpreter.
  •      Remember to tell the interpreter when the session has ended.

The TIS National website has resources to help pharmacy staff to identify a non-English speaker’s language, as well as material that can be displayed to welcome non-English speakers into your pharmacy.

The Free Interpreting Service can be used to assist in dispensing medication, providing general advice, and the delivery of other general pharmacy services, such as screening and risk assessment, immunisation, wound care, smoking cessation, opioid substitution therapy and providing leave certificates.

Assistance in health review programs is available, however it is recommended that you pre-book a telephone interpreting session with TIS National for longer interpreting sessions, less common languages or for such specialised appointments as Home Medicine Reviews, MedsChecks, Diabetes MedsChecks, Residential Medication Management Review, and Quality Use of Medicine Services and Medication Adherence Programs. 

Pharmacies and individual accredited pharmacists can register for the Free Interpreting Service using the online registration form. More information is available on the DSS Free Interpreting Service webpage.

Once a pharmacy is registered, they can start using the immediate telephone interpreting service straight away and/or pre-book telephone sessions using the online interpreter booking form.