Interpreting Medical Emergencies


Feb 4, 2015 / by Katharine Allen & Barry S. Olsen


From WMTV, an NBC affiliate in Madison, Wisconsin...


Article Excerpt: In a medical emergency, time is of the essence. But what happens when there's a language barrier? It happens in our area more often than you may think. But new technology and expanding services are helping those in the local health field treat patients who speak almost any language.


Part of the help can come from smart phones. Several translation apps are on the market and they're being used more and more by paramedics.


William Ballo, an EMS instructor at Madison College, explains "If you hit the microphone button, you can say it into the phone and then you can have the person repeat into the phone what their answer to that is and then it will translate it back into English for you."

It may not be perfect, but when seconds matter and a language barrier exists, it can be extremely helpful.


Link to the full article here.

InterpretAmerica's Take: The opening paragraphs of this news story, which links to a video and demonstration of the medical translation app (see link above), might look like the perfect interpreter's nightmare on the surface. We encourage you to click through to the full story and read on, because the reason we chose to highlight this story is not necessarily to bemoan the adoption of machine translation in place of a live interpreter. Rather it is to highlight a full-spectrum interpreting solution being employed by a hospital, which needs to communicate with its non-English-speaking clients at all points of contact. By full-spectrum we mean solutions that range from no-touch (language communication through a 100% machine interface) to high-touch (highly-trained and qualified on-site interpreters providing language communication through a 100% human interface). Currently, the brutal reality is that language access is often non-existent at the point of contact when first responders react to a medical crisis. Paramedics have to deal with the reality right in front of them and seconds, not minutes, can make the difference. As was explored in depth in a previous

InterpretAmerica blog post, there are not enough interpreters available to fill the 24/7 interpreting needs hospitals face. Communication, especially in medical emergencies, happens on the fly, in the middle of chaotic situations, without effective tools for bringing remote interpreters into those settings (yet). These emergencies often happen in the middle of the night and when there is literally, not even 5 minutes to spare to connect to a remote telephonic or video interpreter. This article highlights a hospital system making thoughtful, targeted and effective decisions about when and where interpreting apps are appropriate, and when one of their onsite, paid, certified professional medical interpreters is needed. We hope to see more healthcare systems providing language access is a similar fashion.

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