Sign Language Interpreters and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)

The D/deaf- Hard of Hearing (HOH) patient schedules an appointment and requests a sign language interpreter. Your office kindly obliges, as required by law under the ADA.  But when you call a sign language interpreting firm to schedule an interpreter, the office staff asks you several questions about the D/deaf-HOH patient.  Sometimes you may be unsure what to do since this information is protected under HIPAA.

HIPAA hippo sign language interpretersWhat should you do?

Contact a Reputable Firm

First, ensure that you are contacting a reputable sign language interpreting firm who can handle the unique needs of a medical office. They should be able to carefully guide you through the process. Reputable sign language interpreting firms are mini-experts in HIPAA and ADA.  They are also properly insured.  Additionally, they will have sign language interpreters and office staff who can accommodate you. It is best if the firm has a medium to large staff of sign language interpreters.  They can accommodate you in the event that the original sign language interpreter has an emergency. Also, though it is not required by law, it would be best if the interpreters have training in HIPAA.  Most reputable sign language interpreting firms will ensure this.

Business Associate under HIPAA

A sign language interpreter is considered a Business Associate under HIPAA. The Business Associate agreement is with the reputable sign language interpreting firm.  It is not with each individual sign language interpreter who may enter your office. A reputable sign language interpreting firm will guarantee that the sign language interpreter has the appropriate certification and license to interpret for your D/deaf-HOH’s patient’s appointment.  The sign language interpreting firm will need to ask you several questions order to schedule an appropriate sign language interpreter. Check out our blog about things to consider when scheduling an interpreter.

Professional Code of Ethics/Conduct

Sign language interpreters are required under HIPAA not to disclose a D/deaf-HOH patients private information.  They are also bound by their Professional Code of Ethics (Registry for Interpreters of the Deaf and National Association of the Deaf-NAD/RID). The information gathered by the sign language interpreting firm will be specific to the D/deaf-HOH patient’s appointment.  It is used to ensure that the sign language interpreter can accurately interpret the specific D/deaf-HOH patient’s needs.

Avoid a Conflict of Interest

The goal is also to avoid a conflict of interest. For example, a female D/deaf-HOH patient coming in to discuss a possible miscarriage with their Physician should not use a sign language interpreter who recently miscarried.  Additionally, it would be against code of ethics for the D/deaf-HOH patient’s sister to provide sign language interpreting services.  This would be a direct violation of the D/deaf-HOH patient’s rights to privacy. Also, it has been determined that family members are too emotionally involved with patients.  Many times they are not able to provide an unbiased interpretation. These are just a few examples, but many things are used to determine an appropriate qualified sign language interpreter for your medical office.

Provide Background Information

Additionally, the sign language interpreter will be able to more accurately interpret for the D/deaf-HOH patient if they know appropriate information.  The patient’s medical background may be pertinent.  It should be provided especially if your medical office has seen the same patient every few months for checkups.

Providing a sign language interpretation without background knowledge is like walking into a conversation that has already started.  Trying to figure out what people are talking about is a challenge.  It is even harder when the conversation is with a group of people who have known each other for a long time. They tend to have inside jokes and talk about the past.  So it takes even longer to figure out what they are talking about.  Background information allows the interpreter a general idea of what you will be discussing during your visit. Under their Code of Ethics, they will be privy to the information anyway.

In summary, any information provided to a reputable sign language interpreting firm or to a sign language interpreter prior to serving a D/deaf-HOH patient is used to serve the patient.  All this is done in the most ethical accurate manner.  Information is also protected under HIPAA’s Business Associate qualification.


Sign Language Interpreter Code of Professional Conduct- NAD/RID- Video in sign language/website

Sign Language Interpreter Code of Professional Conduct- NAD/RID-PDF

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MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review