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UW Medicine provides care for people from all over the world with a wide range of cultures and many different communication needs. Effective communication is key for the provision of high-quality, patient-centered healthcare services. Communication and language barriers can lead to worse health outcomes and unequal access to healthcare services, which is why language access, which includes interpreters or other language assistance, is essential.   

This year, Harborview Medical Center is celebrating Language Access Week (Sept. 26-30). The Harborview Interpreter Services Department’s mission is to contribute to the elimination of healthcare disparities experienced by patients with limited English proficiency who receive care at Harborview. All the programs and teams making up the department work together to serve this mission.  

Language Access WeekAlso recognized during Harborview’s Language Access Week are providers and staff who use their language skills to communicate with patients and enhance their care. At UW Medicine, staff who are bilingual (or multilingual) and wish to use their language skills for healthcare provision must have their fluency assessed. To learn more, contact your local Interpreter Services Department or coordinator. 

Interpreter Services

The interpreter services team consists of 37 staff medical interpreters, interpreter-translators and caseworker cultural mediators who collectively speak 17 languages. In addition, the team uses vendors to provide in-person and remote (over-the-phone and video) interpreting services. Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali, Amharic and Tigrinya are the top five non-English languages spoken by limited English proficiency patients at Harborview Medical Center. 

Community House Calls

Caseworker cultural mediators’ role consists of care coordination, navigation, advocacy, education and language interpretation. They promote collaboration between medical teams involved in their patients’ care, while providing culturally specific guidance to all involved. Currently, 10 caseworker cultural mediators cover the following language groups: Amharic, Cambodian, Somali, Swahili, Spanish, Vietnamese and Dari/Pashto (Afghan). Referrals to the caseworker cultural mediators team can be made through Epic. 


The EthnoMed website contains information about cultural beliefs, medical issues and other issues pertinent to the healthcare of immigrants to Seattle or the U.S., many of whom are refugees fleeing war-torn parts of the world. Content is reflective of working with Community House Calls communities and the relationships developed over time with Seattle-area immigrant and refugee groups. 

Translation Services

Interpreter Services also provides document translation services for Harborview Medical Center and for some UW Medicine-wide projects. Some examples include translations of patient education materials, screening questionnaires, financial support letters, discharge instructions, essential communications, signs and menus. If you have a translation request, contact your local Interpreter Services Department or coordinator. They can also help update and/or locate existing translations.