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Our Analysts' Insights

15Jun

Innovative Ideas to Communicate with Patients in Healthcare Settings

The interpreting field is a hotbed of creativity due to technological advances and the desire from large-scale buyers to spend their budgets wisely. In this blog post, we explore two new solutions for medical patients with limited language proficiency (LLP), which can substitute for on-site or remote interpreters in select healthcare settings – patient registration and office visits.

Patient registration:

  • In a typical scenario, on-site interpreters assist LLP patients with completing forms about symptoms and history and then wait along with them until their appointments start. Another option is for the front desk to skip the forms and rely on on-site or remote interpretation to ask patients for the necessary details during the session with the provider.

  • The alternative offered by Arias Information Solutions involves autonomous form completion. Its cloud-based Intake Assist software lets patients fill out translated forms online or at a kiosk. The product sends completed forms to a contact center where a linguist translates free-text answers, just in time for the healthcare practitioner to get the final forms before the appointment starts. Arias’ aim is to allow specialists to focus on their work. Health care practitioners get faster to the questioning to diagnose patients while on-site interpreters facilitate the doctor-patient dialog, rather than fill paperwork and sit around in waiting rooms.

Office visit:

  • In this frequent scenario, when an LLP patient needs to communicate, healthcare organizations pick from a range of options – some of which are often cited as poor practices. They may skip interpretation altogether, tap into the language skills of family members, pull out a medical pocket translator like Canopy Apps or MediBabble, reach out to a telephone or video remote interpreting service, or request an on-site interpreter. 

  • What Spoken Translation offers to help medical staff communicate with a patient is Converser, an automated translation platform with integrated speech recognition and synthesis. The patient and health care practitioner communicate back-and-forth through the application. It is based on machine translation but has a built-in verification system that ensures its output is of usable quality. This software uses back-translation and word-sense disambiguation so that users can tweak the wording before the speech synthesis voices the translation. Converser aims to close the reliability gap that persists in today’s consumer-oriented speech translation systems, which don’t sufficiently meet the needs of applications in areas such as healthcare, business, and emergency response. Simply advancing translation accuracy through advancing machine learning may not meet the need either. As Mark Seligman, President of Spoken Translation, stated: “Trust requires feedback. Even human interpreters spend considerable time in clarification dialogues.”

Both Arias and Spoken Translation conducted pilot programs with healthcare institutions but have yet to find their first paying customers. Both their products have room for improvement in terms of usability, scalability, or the company’s ability to deliver on promises. That said, why do these solutions matter? 

  • They herald innovation in the interpreting sector. These companies present interesting and useful technologies that are supported by software patents. They bootstrapped the efforts to run the pilots. Most news about investment and startups in the language sector involve written translation companies so this is a welcome addition to the market.

  • They bring to market features that would benefit from integration with a bigger solution. Like many small software companies, Arias and Spoken Translation implemented products that solve a particular pain point for healthcare providers. As they implement features, they give us an idea of what the future might look like, especially if acquired by a larger firm with a full-scale patient management system. Importantly, the bigger company would have the sales force to bring them into many more accounts. Thus, acquisition or partnership is in the business plan for these two companies. 

  • They prove that language access has applications beyond LLP. Their ideas have a broad range of uses outside the original scope of helping people with limited language proficiency. For example, electronic form completion would streamline patient intake even in the dominant language and a disambiguation system for machine translation would be useful for anyone looking at assistive communication technologies in other areas such as travel or banking.

While these companies may not have the resources for a go-to-market plan that will maximize their visibility, they demonstrate that language technology startups are starting to look at issues beyond language access. With more investment, such approaches can shape the future of interpreting and have an impact in other areas of the language services or healthcare industry.

CSA Research expects to see more innovations designed to reduce the length and cost of encounters. Interpreters should see their role evolve away from low-value coordination to focusing their language skills where a dialog really matters. While the technology may appear disruptive in reducing the length of assignments, it would enable them to elevate their role and to support more patients in the crucial moments where they need an interpreter to communicate.

About the Author

Hélène Pielmeier

Hélène Pielmeier

Director of LSP Service

Focuses on LSP business management, strategic planning, sales and marketing strategy and execution, project and vendor management, quality process development, and interpreting technologies

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