Global clinical trials often collaborate with patients from a variety of backgrounds, making it highly unlikely that all participants will be able to communicate in a common language. Even within the same language group, there can be differences related to age, gender, and education, for example, which might impact the effectiveness or clarity of communication between the doctors and patients.

Accurate and precise communication between doctors and patients during clinical trials is critical in evaluating the success of new medications and medical treatments. While it is common knowledge that documentation produced during clinical trials must be translated, it is also important to acknowledge the necessity of thorough verbal communication between patients and medical professionals. This can be equally important to a successful outcome of a clinical trial, particularly when interviewing patients regarding Patient Reported Outcomes (PRO).  A 2007 study conducted by Health Services Research[1] concluded that quality of care greatly increases when professional interpreters are utilized to facilitate bilingual communication between doctors and patients.

While it may be tempting to obtain ad hoc interpretation from family, friends, or bilingual staff because it is expedient, this is not a reliable or safe practice and can actually be harmful, or even illegal, especially if the communication is sensitive or confidential.  Professional interpreters are really the only viable option to ensure clear and accurate bilingual communication during clinical trials, especially if the communication needs to be transcribed and certified as part of the study.

Working with professional interpreters during a clinical trial

While having a professional interpreter physically present to perform face-to-face interpretation is ideal, as it allows for the most natural flow of communication and has the added benefit of allowing the interpreter to observe body language, it is not always practical to have interpreters onsite. One way to streamline the process is to consolidate and schedule patient interviews in blocks over a period of a few days and having an interpreter onsite for an extended period for those days only, instead of being on call.  Alternatively, you can schedule a regular, recurring time to conduct bilingual interviews, every Thursday, for example, to minimize scheduling conflicts.

When it is not possible to have an interpreter onsite, either because of scheduling issues or because the language in question is not readily available in the area, it is a good idea to consider using telephone interpreting.  Over-the-phone interpretation is common in hospitals and clinics and can be equally effective and convenient when communicating with patients. In situations where it is important for participants to see each other, consider using Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), a video conferencing service designed specifically for interpretation. Through VRI, you can also share documents and this allows interpreters to provide sight translation of documents, as required, to help doctors and patients review bilingual medical documents together, if necessary. In the context of clinical trials, this can be useful to make sure patients understand any written instructions provided by the doctor, or to verify patient consent.

How can thebigword help?

Using professional interpreters during clinical trials increases the confidence of both doctors and patients. This is especially true for global clinical trials conducted in multiple languages. Important verbal communication must be interpreted, captured and transcribed.

With 40 years’ experience providing highly skilled interpreters and ranking #4 in Europe and #1 worldwide for interpreting services, thebigword is perfectly placed to provide face-to-face, telephone, VRI, and conferencing interpretation services.  Services are available 24/7 at the click of a button through WordSynk, our innovative platform designed for one-touch connection to interpreting professionals around the world. With a large network of medical interpretation professionals and a HIPAA-compliant global call center, thebigword is positioned to help you with your next multilingual, global clinical trial.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1955368/