First of all you should be aware that conducting an appointment with an interpreter can often take double the time of an appointment where an interpreter is not used. There is twice as much communication as the information is being relayed twice and will often take much longer due to this. You should plan your other appointments accordingly with this fact. Allow enough time for interpreting appointments in anticipation they may overrun a standard appointment allocation time.
It is important that you establish the interpreter and patient do not know of each other or do not come from a close community before the session begins, and for BSL patients they are happy with their assigned interpreter. If this situation does occur where your patient knows the interpreter or vice versa, you should postpone the appointment and organise for a different interpreter to attend the next session. Often patients do not feel comfortable knowing their interpreter or knowing their interpreter comes from the same community as them, as they fear the subjects discussed during the appointment could be shared within their community.
It is important to ensure the patient and the interpreter do not engage in any conversation prior to the appointment, except to determine that their language matches, as this may cause boundary issues between them. For example the patient may ask for help in reading a letter or interpreting in a different setting away from their appointment, in this case the interpreter should always inform you as the practitioner this has been asked of them and they should inform the patient that anything discussed will be mentioned to yourself as the practitioner and they are not permitted to have extra session contact without the practitioner knowing and arranging these on their behalf.
You should make sure the appointment is conducted in a private room which is set up to a good standard. This will ensure that all parties feel comfortable and that the most can be made from the interpreting session. You should consider the layout of the room:
- Is there easy access to fire escapes or in the case where an appointment becomes dangerous or conflicting, a quick escape route from the appointment room?
- Are chairs and tables set up to allow easy communication for all parties involved?
- The ideal seating arrangements allow all parties to be an equal distance apart allowing the free flow of conversation and showing an even distribution of power. For example, if the patient is sat opposite both the practitioner and the interpreter this can make them feel inferior and ganged upon. Whereas having an equal setting of seating will make the patient feel more at ease and comfortable resulting in better communication.
See model below:
You should note, where patients present a risk to the interpreter, a risk assessment should be completed. Interpreters should be informed of the risks and should be seated near exits and be advised on the interruption procedure to leave the room if they feel threatened or intimidated by the client or if they feel you as the practitioner are not assisting them in their safety. If an interpreter has had a bad experience previously within a mental health setting they should make you aware of this so that you can arrange seating accordingly.
For a BSL appointment it is important that the interpreter is sat facing the patient as they will require face to face communication. It is important to ensure enough light is provided in the room whilst considering natural bright sunlight can impede people’s vision.
 Queensland Health Interpreter Service, Working with interpreters, Guidelines, Queensland Health Publishing Service, 2007, pg 18.