Feb 4, 2022

On-Site vs Remote Interpreting: Which Should I Use?

4 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly sped up the adoption of online and remote platforms. More businesses than ever offer remote work options and hold important meetings over Zoom. Telehealth became necessary in an era where hospitals were filled to the brim and meeting in person was less than safe.
In 2020, the share of Medicare visits conducted through telehealth increased 63-fold to 52.7 million. Now, 97% of executives say the pandemic sped up their digital transformation.
Remote interpretation has been available for years now, but like other industries, we saw an increasing acceptance of remote services alongside the pandemic.
It begs the question: how does remote interpretation through video and phone compare to on-site services?
The fact is, it depends on who and what you need an interpreter for. The right choice for you will depend on situational factors like timing, frequency, distance, and budget.

When to Use On-Site Interpreting

On-site interpreting, also known as in-person or face-to-face interpreting, is important to use when an interpreter’s physical presence matters.
In general, an in-person interpretation service is always the best option—when it is an option. It comes with many benefits missing from today’s remote options:
1. Talking in person helps people connect. When working with a new client or patient, building trust is essential, and using an on-site interpreter helps set the groundwork for an ongoing relationship.
2. Interpreters are better able to read body language in person. This contributes to effective communication and understanding, especially when speaking across languages. It also helps an interpreter pick up on subtle shifts, such as when someone is done speaking or has questions.
3. The understanding and personalization that comes with in-person communication also make on-site interpreting better for sensitive information, such as medical information, diagnoses, mental health, and so on.
4. Having a professional interpreter in the room contributes to a sense of professionalism.
5. On-site interpretation sessions are planned to ensure an interpreter can make it. Since they are planned, you can consistently use the same interpreter, further promoting client comfort and success.
Despite these benefits, there are occasions when face-to-face interpretation isn’t a viable option. For example, when you need an interpreter on short notice, it can be difficult to find someone who can get there in time. Your budget may also be a limiting factor if you need an interpreter often because in-person interpretation tends to run more expensive than remote options.
If you can afford it, important times to commit to an in-person interpreter are:

  • In sensitive or critical situations
  • In demanding situations, like interpreting for several people
  • For personal and private conversations
  • During your first time meeting or communicating with a client
  • When talking to children or those with underdeveloped language skills
  • When talking to someone with idiosyncratic language patterns
  • When talking to someone with a disability, like blindness, that makes it harder for them to use remote options
  • When your client or patient doesn’t have access to remote methods

When to Use Remote Interpreting

There are two kinds of remote interpreting: video and telephonic.

Video Remote Interpreting

Due to the convenience of video over in-person meetings, video remote interpreting (VRI) tends to run cheaper. Interpreters don’t have to account for travel time, saving time overall.
VRI services come with their own set of benefits:
1. It’s a more cost-effective option for some businesses that require interpretation services often.
2. Video interpretation helps when distance is an issue. This used to primarily be the case for clients or business partners located far away, but with COVID-19, video became an excellent option for those who couldn’t risk getting or spreading illness. In workers’ compensation, many patients may be unable to travel but still need help.
3. Video remote interpretation is a good option when you need services at short notice. Sometimes a client or patient requires a meeting faster than you can acquire an on-site interpreter.
4. Between the two remote interpretation options, video remote interpreting is the closest to in-person because everyone can still see each other, even if the view is limited. As a result, the ability to read facial expressions and some body language is still a benefit of video.
Overall, we recommend using VRI when you will benefit from seeing each other, but urgency or distance prevents an in-person meeting.
A great use case scenario is when a patient is in the emergency room, confused and scared, and needs immediate interpretation of crucial medical information. Another would be when you’re meeting with a client for the first time and want to build rapport, but one of you was exposed to COVID-19 in the last few days.
The downside to video interpretation is that you need to have a suitable system in place, including a camera, microphone, lighting, and strong wifi connectivity. You will also need to understand how to use the video platform of choice. These obstacles aren’t typically an issue for businesses, but they can be for patients.

Over-the-Phone Interpreting

Over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) has the same remote benefits as video, including convenience, immediacy, cost-effectiveness, and crossing the distance. As a result, OPI services are also an acceptable option in unplanned situations, for communicating with those who can’t come in, and when you have a small budget.
The drawback to phone interpretation, however, is that it lacks face-to-face communication. Since visual contact and body language are so helpful for connection and understanding, OPI works best when:
1. You have already established rapport with your client or patient.
2. You are having a short and simple conversation with less opportunity for miscommunication.
3. You were planning on communicating over the phone already, so you’re not limiting the conversation. For instance, a telemedicine appointment is already over the phone, making telephonic interpretation the optimal choice.

Which Method Results in Higher Satisfaction?

One study of 241 Spanish-speaking patients, 24 health providers, and 7 interpreters held numerous in-person, video, and phone interviews and had everyone rate their experience. Interestingly, patients rated all methods equally, but the interpreters and providers largely preferred in-person communication. Of the remote options, they preferred video.
This discrepancy could be because patients only experienced one type of interview, whereas providers and interpreters were exposed to all 3, so they had a sense of comparison. Either way, it’s worth considering the expert opinion of interpreters and providers.
There is a consensus that patients experience a higher level of satisfaction with trained interpreters than their friends or family. This makes sense as professional interpreters are better equipped to handle confidential medical information.

Choose Your Interpretation Method With Care

When it comes down to it, the right interpretation method for you—whether it be in-person, video, or over the phone—will change on a case-by-case basis. This is because your patients and clients will all have different needs, and as humans, our own needs fluctuate.
A combination of methods may best maximize your situational factors and budget, but as long as you follow the guidelines in this article, you’ll make the right choice for every situation.