Breaking the language barrier when getting healthcare

At Dell Children’s Medical Center in Central Austin, whenever a patient needs help and doesn’t speak English an interpreter is needed. Sometimes that’s done over the phone. But a new technology is letting patients talk to a real person through video chat.

Many of us use our tablets to play games or search the web but the ones at Dell Children’s Medical Center have a very specific purpose.

Rosalina Rivera, Seton Language Services Manager says, “It's as close as you get a one on one communication. You press the button for language you want and then voila! There is the interpreter.” 

The new addition, called LanguageLine, features more than 200 languages. It provides some necessary help to those who don’t speak English or are deaf and need medical attention.

“When they go to the doctor, how are they going to communicate? It's very confusing. It's very scary from the patient's perspective and from the medical provider it's quite scary because they are not quite sure they are being understood,” Rivera says.

Seton already employs some 30 interpreters but with patients coming in 24 hours a day they needed a system that could be there at their beck and call.

The service includes video chatting in the 12 most requested languages. Rivera says some of those include American sign language, Arabic and Cantonese. Spanish, Vietnamese and Burmese round out the top four.

Registered nurse Justin Sandefur says, “Austin is actually a place where refugees get relocated frequently and so we've had people from all over the world speaking languages that some of us have never even heard of.”     

American sign language is also very common since there is a big deaf community in Austin. Some of the rarest include Swahili and Nepalese. But regardless of the language, in an emergency situation, people need to understand exactly what’s going on.

“In the ICU environment when things are changing all the time, decisions need to be made very quickly and it’s important to have something readily available to have an accurate reliable interpreter,” Sandefur says.

Interpreters are also knowledgeable in cultural differences that could affect the way nurses and doctors help a patient.

And those who have used the program definitely appreciate it. FOX 7 caught up with a family who only spoke Arabic and used the tablet to understand their son's population. Through the interpreter, the family says that the new system is very clear and that they understand the information better than when they got it over the phone.

The program is now being used in all six of the Seton Healthcare Family locations in Austin.