© 2021 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Technology allows hospital faster access to interpreters

Ellen Abbott
Interpreting services manager Sue Freeman shows of Upstate University Hospital's new rolling translator

Syracuse’s burgeoning refugee population has prompted one local hospital to invest in new technology that will allow access to a translator in less than 60 seconds.

You’ll find these rolling translators  in several departments at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse; they are basically an iPad, wired to a small gray speaker, attached to a cart on wheels. One touch to the iPad, and you hear something like:

"Thank you for calling LanguageLine Solutions, this is Alton, ID number 249063. I’ll be your Spanish interpreter today.”

Video of the interpreter pops up on the screen, and then the face-to-face dialogue can begin between a non-English speaking patient or family member, and a health care professional. Social worker Patty Woodruff is a fan.

"I tell my refugee patients, just call me, even if you don’t know how to say what you need, as long as I can at least understand who you are, I can get an interpreter on the phone very quickly and call you right back,” said Woodruff.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
The LanguageLine Solutions device

It didn’t used to be this way at University Hospital. Interpreting services manager Sue Freeman says before the technology was installed last month, the hospital used an agency to find a local interpreters, something that could take up to an hour. And establishing communication quickly is key in medical settings.

"Not only just for equal access to total communication, you want to make sure that they’re understanding the medications that they’re taking, the medications that are being given. You want to treat the right problem. You don’t want to treat them for a headache, only to find that it’s a brain aneurysm," said Freeman.

The top five languages used at the hospital are Nepali, Somali, Arabic, Spanish and American Sign Language. This technology offers interpreters that speak a total of 240 languages. And it’s already helped Woodruff, who came across one client who spoke an obscure dialect.

“I can’t even remember the name of the language, and it was rare even for the language line, but they got it, they found it, even though they had to search a bit. And this was a woman we could find no one locally, in person who could speak it. And this poor woman was literally trapped inside herself, unable to communicate until we could get somebody.”

A recent study has shown that the yearly average number of refugees coming to Syracuse has doubled since 2008.