Video-interpretation service helps hospital improve patient care
Few would consider Urbana, Ill., a melting pot. But the hamlet of roughly 41,000 people located 138 miles southwest of Chicago is a town where multiple languages are spoken — in part because it is home to the University of Illinois—among them Spanish; French; Vietnamese; Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese; and several Slavic languages, including Croatian. This created quite a challenge for Presence Covenant Medical Center, according to Alejandra Coronel, the hospital’s supervisor for language services.
“We’re not Chicago — we don’t have access to a lot of interpreters,” Coronel said. “There are only three available in our town, and they work for everybody — the university, all of the hospitals we have here in town and any company.”
A year ago, Presence Covenant turned to Monterey, Calif.–based LanguageLine Solutions to provide interpretation services. Its 6,000 interpreters scattered across the globe are available 24/7 and collectively can handle more than 200 languages.
“Now we don’t have to wait for an interpreter,” Coronel said. Any kind of delay is anathema in a sector where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Though many medical personnel are bilingual, there’s a huge difference between speaking a language and being able to interpret it, especially when stress is a factor, said Scott Klein, president and CEO of LanguageLine Solutions.
“People who can speak two languages don’t necessarily have the mental agility to go back and forth quickly between the two different languages,” Klein said. “They can speak Spanish, they can speak English, but going back and forth simultaneously is a very different skill.”
Presence Coventry’s situation improved yet again a month ago, when the hospital started using LanguageLine’s new video-based service. Formally introduced this week and dubbed LanguageUc, it offers interpretation for Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as American Sign Language.
The service can be accessed by any smartphone or tablet computer that is connected to the hospital’s broadband network. The communication between patient and medical professional occurs via a HIPAA-compliant VPN, in order to ensure patient privacy.
With about 600 hearing-impaired residents in the city, the sign-language component is a huge plus according to Coronel. Another is that the service includes a white-board component that allows medical personnel to type instructions and medication names that might be too long or complex to be signed effectively. On second thought, it’s a plus for just about any patient, Coronel said.
“When you’re a patient, there are so many things that are going on in your mind, you’re worried about so many things,” she said. “So, it’s neat when you also can read the information.”
With so many emergency medical technicians carrying smartphones and tablets these days, Coronel envisions LanguageUc being used to great effect in the field. Often, EMTs are unable to communicate effectively with the patient because of a language barrier or because the patient is unresponsive. In such situations, the EMT often has to rely on input from family members or bystanders — which never is ideal, according to Coronel, whether the interchange occurs at the incident or in the medical facility.
“We want the family member to be an advocate for the patient, but we don’t want them in the role of interpreter,” she said. “The risk is accuracy.”
There are several reasons why accuracy might be an issue. One is that the family member might not have full knowledge of the incident or the patient’s medical history. Another is that he or she may withhold information felt to be private, sensitive or incriminating. Yet another is that emotion might impair the family member’s communication skills at that moment.
“How hard would it be for a child to tell a mother that she has cancer and only has three months of life?” Coronel said.
The fact that the service is video-centric provides an intrinsic benefit, in that interpreters can pick up on facial expressions and body language that will help them better understand what the person on the screen is trying to communicate.
LanguageUc is targeted to professions other than medical, notably legal, insurance and financial. Given that each sector has its own unique terminology, the company created the LanguageLine Academy to provides sector-specific training and certification curriculum and ensure that interpreters are able to communicate effectively.
“Any interpreter that is part of the video-interpretation team is the cream of the crop,” Klein said. “They’ve been in classes where doctors and nurses are coming in to lecture to them, and they’re tested on that material, to make sure that they’re up to speed and they know exactly what it is that they’re doing.”