Why onsite interpreters charge a two-hour minimum

When Alice went down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland in the children’s fable, all perception was distorted. Large things appeared small, and vice versa.

A similar perception issue tends to affect well-meaning health care providers when they schedule an onsite interpreter. An appointment they envision will take just a short time is very often in reality a much bigger commitment than anticipated.

The question of an onsite interpreter’s two-hour minimum is a reasonable one to ask. Clients often inquire why they must pay for two hours when they feel they only need the interpreter for 30 minutes. Why can’t the health care provider simply pay onsite interpreters for the time they work?

Though it often catches clients by surprise, the two-hour minimum is fairly standard. First and foremost, the practice exists to protect the client from unforeseen costs, as well as to support the patient experience.

Clients typically project an appointment will take 20-30 minutes. However, after checking into a clinic, sitting in the waiting room, visiting with the physician, and checking out, most appointments are substantially longer.

Consider the following:

  • An interpreter usually arrives 15 minutes before an assignment – sometimes even longer if it is their first time at a location and they are unfamiliar with the client.
  • There is usually some form of check-in. The interpreter is often called to reception to interpret front-desk instructions related to insurance or paperwork.
  • Physicians’ offices often run behind schedule. Once the patient is called, there is often an interaction with a nurse who checks blood pressure, health history, and the reason for the appointment.
  • The interpreter, who is never alone with the patient, leaves the room, then re-enters with the physician.
  • Once the time with the doctor is complete, there is often bloodwork or x-rays.
  • The patient then checks out – which may involve more instructions and paperwork – and then all parties finally depart.

Given all of the stops and starts, an appointment like this one would be difficult to manage using over-the-phone interpreting. An onsite interpreter provides continuity that enhances the experience – something that is especially valuable with Medicare reimbursement pegged to patient satisfaction.

READ: When to Use an Onsite Interpreter

Interpreters must also travel between assignments. When appointments are scheduled too close together, it jeopardizes the ability of the interpreter to get from one to the next on time. The two-hour minimum allows for a buffer so that the interpreter can operate comfortably.

Maximizing Your Investment with Onsite Interpreters

Clients who make the most out of their investment in onsite interpretation often embrace the practice of booking an interpreter for an extended period, then scheduling appointments requiring that language consecutively.

For example, it is not unusual for a hospital to schedule an interpreter for seven hours, then have that interpreter accompany physicians for patient engagements in which their language is needed.

With no travel and fewer wait times, the onsite interpreter is able to maximize their interpreting time.

Again, while the two-hour minimum may seem extraneous on the surface, its intention is to protect health care providers from unexpected costs, as well as to ensure that critical information is communicated to the patient at the highest level possible.

LanguageLine(R) Can Help

LanguageLine supports facilities that have an ongoing need for dependable onsite interpretation in American Sign Language and more than 240 spoken languages. We provide fully trained, professional interpreters; convenient scheduling by phone, email, and secure online portal; and the ability to view the up-to-the-minute status of assignments online, with full reporting to facilitate language-access management. Please contact LanguageLine for more information.

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