5 ways translation technology can improve healthcare

If you don't already encounter multilingual patients in your practice, there's good reason to believe you will at some point in the future: 47 million U.S. residents don't speak English as their primary language. In fact, requirements at the state and federal level demand that you find ways to communicate with limited English-speakers.

Among those solutions are technologies that offer speech-to-speech and text-to-text communication from one language to another, said Jonathan Litchman, senior vice president, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). SAIC produces Omnifluent Health, a linguistics translation program integrated with automatic speech recognition technology. "Multilingual communication solutions [are having] a huge impact on the healthcare industry,” Litchman said. “Not only does i[the technology] remove the language barrier between patients and their physicians, it also reduces the cost of medical interpretation and time associated with it, while increasing productivity and accuracy."

Litchman outlined five benefits translation technology brings to healthcare.

1. Reduced costs
Healthcare translation technology can significantly reduce costs for hospitals and providers in their interpretation needs, while also boosting productivity. "This sort of technology is the low-hanging fruit CFOs and senior admins hardly recognize," Litchman said. "That cost saving can be leveraged to be used for more critical, clinical applications that are much more sensitive to cost-cutting."

2. Reduced administrative and staff burden
Many healthcare organizations have a limited number of people available for interpretation, especially on an immediate basis. "The wait time for interpreters can sometimes be upwards to 25 minutes," Litchman said. Speech-to-speech technology can solve this the wait time problem, which places less of a burden on staff while increasing patient throughput. "That level of healthcare productivity is really a goal for most hospital administrations. It's something that's highly sought after: reduce costs of translation and save money? That hits a benefit twice."

3. Increased quality and accuracy
Accuracy can be a major problem when it comes to translation and interpretation. "Usually the interpreters aren't the ones also filling out the paperwork. It's important to make sure that what was said in one language is accurately being reflected in another language," explained Litchman. Inaccuracy can have significant implications on insurance reimbursement, billing and healthcare record management. "As a patient and physician are sitting side-by-side having a conversation that's being recorded in both languages on a screen, they can see if there's a mistake or if something needs clarification. There's no wait time; immediate corrections can be made with people involved."

4. Mobility
Another benefit of healthcare translation technology is its mobility. Consider the back-up hospitals can face at an emergency department admissions desk due to lack of available interpreters. Having a translation product brought to the ER when needed can reduce wait times for patients. Instead of having to wait for an interpreter to be found, the technology is already available in the hospital. “It would increase the quality of patient care, throughput, and overall healthcare experience, which means patient satisfaction goes way up," said Litchman.

5. Clinical applications

Technology like this isn't just beneficial for the administrative side of a healthcare organization; it also makes a big difference on the clinical side, too. "You have three people in a conversation - the person speaking the foreign language, an interpreter and the physician. It seems like communication should flow freely and evenly in a situation like this, but great nuances can be missed," Litchman said. Having two records in front of a physician, one in the patient's language and a translated version, allows medical practitioners to see whether the questions they're asking are truly being understood by both the patient and the interpreter. "This technology allows us to capture the spirit and intent of a physician’s effort to communicate with a patient while avoiding the game of 'Telephone,'" said Litchman. "The message isn't going to get lost along the way."