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Improve communication with non-English-speaking patients

Grobecker, Patricia MS, BSN, RN-BC

Nursing made Incredibly Easy: July/August 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 4 - p 55
doi: 10.1097/01.NME.0000430827.30203.9b
Department: Ask an Expert

Clinical Instructor • MGH Institute of Health Professions • Charlestown, Mass.

The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.

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Q: How do I use an Interpreter Phone on a Pole (IPOP) device to communicate with my non-English-speaking patients during medication administration?

A: When using the IPOP device, you'll be able to communicate with your patients in their primary language through a trained medical interpreter so you can safely administer medications. The IPOP system, which can be used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, provides interpreter services for over 200 languages.

You've taken a very important step by acknowledging the need to communicate effectively with your non-English-speaking patients. Engaging in effective therapeutic communication with all your patients helps decrease the potential for medical errors and promote patient safety.

The IPOP, a portable phone attached to a unit on wheels, is similar to a small I.V. pole or portable BP machine. The IPOP and similar communication devices are being made more available to nurses because communicating in the patient's primary language contributes to patient safety.

The IPOP device's speakerphone provides a conference call that lets you hear the patient's and interpreter's conversation so you'll know when to initiate questions and when to pause for patient and interpreter dialog. Because of the speakerphone, you'll need to be mindful of confidentiality if other patients or visitors are in the room.

After wheeling the IPOP device into the patient's room, follow these prompts:

  • Turn on the IPOP.
  • Dial the toll-free number.
  • Give the customer service representative your unit's access code.
  • Wait to be connected to an interpreter who speaks your patient's primary language (service is usually immediate).

As you prepare to administer medications to your non-English-speaking patients, follow these guidelines for using the IPOP:

  • Get ready by organizing your questions ahead of time.
  • Face your patient as you speak.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Ask one question at a time.
  • Use simple terms, avoiding abbreviations and slang expressions.
  • Actively listen as you wait for the interpreter and patient to finish their dialog.
  • Observe your patient's response.
  • Clarify any misunderstandings.


When using the IPOP or a similar communication device, be considerate of your patient's fears about using it. Until the IPOP is in use, your patient may see it as one more unfamiliar apparatus being brought into the room. With experience, he or she will learn that using the IPOP is a safe and convenient way to communicate.

Your patient's culture is another factor to consider when using the IPOP. This short communication experience may not provide a real sense of caring or presence, which many patients need. Pay close attention to your patient's reactions and be mindful that the interpreter can't see your patient's reactions or responses.

Becoming familiar with how to use the IPOP on your unit may be challenging at first, but the reward of knowing that you provide the best possible care and safety for all your patients is well worth the effort.

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