Speech Solutions Can Translate into Better Medical Care

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Whenever a conversation about speech translation turns to the field of medicine, all thoughts seem to jump directly to diagnosis and prescription, forgetting all of the surrounding experiences involved in medical offices and hospitals. Speech translation has a powerful contribution to make in every aspect of every medical facility. And the speech technology approach to communication can lower the need for, and costs involved in, language and signing interpretation.

Making Appointments

The beginning of the patient experience is also the first roadblock to access to medical care—the ability to make an appointment. Most medical facilities require appointments to be made over the phone, which is daunting for non-native speakers.

Speech translation provides the answer by enabling phone calls to be translated in real time through voice translation or via a translated chat box on the web. Importantly, the advantages of speech translation apply equally to the deaf and the deaf-blind, who in the past required human translators or special equipment simply to organize a doctor’s visit.

Entering Facilities

The next potentially negative experience occurs when the patient shows up for the appointment. Whether the patient is a non-native speaker or deaf or deaf-blind, the experience is the same: challenging. The receptionist requests your name, your appointment time, your doctor’s name. Then comes filling out forms, sometimes half a dozen of them.

To enable HIPAA-compliant communication, speech translation of the receptionist’s words can appear as subtitles or be heard as a translated text-to-speech (TTS) voice on a tented tablet or small monitor on the counter. A real-time automatic translation then clarifies instructions and form fields. A translation of the patient’s spoken or texted answers helps the receptionist collaborate with the patient. The tented tablet can also provide captions for the deaf and generate Braille for the deaf-blind and display large fonts for the elderly and visually impaired, all while providing excellent customer service on behalf of the medical facility.

Conversing with Nurses and Assistants

When the patient’s appointment time has come, a nurse or healthcare provider appears who, again, often can’t communicate with the patient. When verbal communication is not possible, physical manipulation is the only option, so he/she pulls, tugs, and pushes the patient into hallways, onto scales, into chairs for a blood pressure check, etc.

With speech translation, nurses and assistants can give instructions and utter the same friendly patter as with English-speaking patients, while their voices are translated for the patient voice-to-voice, voice-to-text, or voice-to-Braille. The patient can reply in short answers as well.

Conversing with the Doctor

This is the point where medical professionals worry about speech technology—and rightly so. But there are solutions for each part of a doctor’s communication. During an appointment,, a doctor’s conversation is divided into three stages:

1. Friendly, simplistic sentences (“Good day. It is good to see you again. Please lie down so that I can…”).

2. Results of of an exam or a diagnosis (“You have an infection …”).

3. Instructions and prescriptions (“Take two of these pills three times per day and clean the wound with this liquid…”).

The severity of the doctor’s diagnosis will determine the type of translated communication that is most appropriate, but well over 60 percent of all communications of types 1 through 3 above can be preplanned and pre-translated, then recalled by the doctor at a touch of a finger on a tablet or by typing a keyword, sentence, or phrase. Professionally pre-translated sentences and paragraphs will cover the majority of basic doctor-patient conversation, including the meaning of medical terms and the prognosis.

By switching to yes/no and short-answer questions, the doctor can elicit much vital information. So “How can I help you today?” becomes “Are you in pain? Show me where. Have you had this long?” All of these can be pre-translated by medical translators, and the patient answers yes or no or in short phrases, best for speech translation.

Human Interpretation

Finally, whether they’re from an agency or on the hospital’s staff, interpreters are crucial in cases of serious diagnosis or injury; no one wants to hear they have cancer from a TTS voice. Medical speech translation apps have a “Click to summon an interpreter” feature that can add a language interpreter (voice) or a signing interpreter (video) to the speech translation solution. Currently, many patients use their children—some as young as 5 years old—as their interpreter, or a family relative who speaks some English but struggles to follow a fluent conversation with the doctor. By adding speech translation and human interpretation to the mix, the family member can participate, but the doctor is assured of comprehension.

Sue Reager is CEO of @International Services, a company specializing in translation and localization for technology and marketing, and president of Translate Your World, developers of software for across-language speech communication. She can be reached at sreager@internationalservices.com.

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