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Video Interpreting at Children’s

New video and phone language assistance expands Children’s Hospital’s interpreting services


A new video and phone interpreting pilot project that launched increases patient families’ access to professional healthcare interpreters and speedier service at Children’s Hospital Central California.

As a member of the Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN), Children’s received a $167,000 grant to provide video conferencing and enhance its phone services. The network is a collaborative of non-profit, Interpreter using phone language assistance equipmentcommunity-based California hospitals and healthcare providers sharing trained healthcare interpreters through an automated video and voice call center system. Children’s is the first pediatric hospital to join the network. The video conferencing technology is not replacing interpreters at the Hospital, but expanding interpreting resources, allowing more flexibility when the need arises to provide information to a family in their own language.

The grant pays for video conferencing equipment and phone service, providing faster response time for interpreting needs and freeing up interpreters to provide face-to-face service for more complex visits, such as a patient who needs cardiothoracic surgery for a life-threatening cardiovascular condition. If successful after the six-month pilot period and Children’s chooses to continue with the collaborative, the equipment will be given to the Hospital through the grant.Interpreter using phone language assistance equipment

“We’re fortunate to benefit from the funding and network, allowing us to pilot the technology and services without having to purchase the equipment,” said Children’s Spiritual, Interpreter and Child Life Services Director, Susan Lea Sturgill. “Other children’s hospitals I have spoken with purchased video interpreting equipment without the opportunity of trying it first. The equipment turned out to be great but initially costly.”

The importance of interpreters in family-centered care at Children’s
Children’s Hospital serves a diverse population, with multiple ethnicities and languages. Since 1980, Children’s has used qualified healthcare interpreters in bridging the communication barrier to our limited and non-English speaking families. More than 25 healthcare interpreters play a vital role at the Hospital, providing over 115,000 interventions – either face-to-face or over the phone – annually in seven languages. Over 30 other languages are provided for by contracted agencies. Healthcare interpreters facilitate communication between physicians and patient families, interpreting anything the doctor needs to communicate to the patient family, and vice versa.

An emphasis on sign language with video conferencing
While families who speak limited or no English will benefit from the project, the video interpreting will especially help those who are deaf. Sign language interventions can only be supported by video interpreting unlike other languages that can be supported by phone service as well. In addition, there are fewer sign language interpreters available in the area to meet the Hospital’s interpreting needs in a timely fashion. For example, some sign language interpreters drive more than hour to meet our patient family needs. 

“We recognized the value of having a new tool to help with communication,” said Lea Sturgill. “Video and phone interpreting can be an effective way to provide language assistance to patients and families in the healthcare environment.”

How the video and voice conferencing works
The purpose of the six-month pilot project is to test the video interpreting language assistance equipment, process and capabilities. Sign language, Hmong, Lao, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Farsi, Mien, Arabic, Armenian, Mixteco and Russian will be available through the video interpreting equipment. If the pilot project is successful, the Hospital will add additional languages in the future.

The system provides access to an interpreter almost immediately. Depending on their location within the Hospital – such as at the patient’s bedside or outpatient clinic area – medical staff will have access to a remote interpreter through a video unit and a speaker phone such as a wireless sound station phone. When medical staff dials in, they are connected to an interpreter. 

For example, a medical staff member using video interpreting would choose the language that the patient family speaks from a list displayed on the touch screen of a video interpreting phone. He or she would be connected to an interpreter on their video interpreting phone unit. All parties involved would be able to see and hear each other; The interpreter would be able to see and hear the conversation taking place between the medical staff member and the patient family, and they can see the interpreter.

“This service allows members in the HCIN cooperative to work together and benefit from the new technology,” said Maria Flores, supervisor of language assistance in Interpreter Services. “We are contributing an interpreter to the network at a time when it is possible for us; we can call other network hospitals if we do not have an interpreter for a certain language at the time of need – allowing us to help each other first.”

Normally if the Hospital does not have an interpreter that speaks a particular language to meet a patient family’s needs, an external contracted language provider is used. As a HCIN member, participating hospitals can exchange interpreter services with each other. The interpreter could be one of ours or one of the hospitals in the HCIN system. If a Children’s or HCIN interpreter is not available, then the call is transferred to a contracted language provider.

Phone equipment and service fills the gap in interpreting services
In addition to video interpreting, the HCIN grant also provides access to interpreters through wireless sound station speaker phones or dual cordless phone handsets in inpatient and ambulatory areas that, prior to receiving funding, only had land lines with no speaker phone capability. Up until this point, these areas of the Hospital relied primarily on face-to-face interpreting.

Supporting The Joint Commission’s efforts
The Joint Commission, the premiere healthcare accrediting organization in the U.S., recognizes the value of using technology to deliver language assistance. As a Joint Commission accredited hospital, this effort also works toward The Joint Commission’s expectations and new standard for meeting the communication needs of the Limited English proficient or deaf patient taking effect next year. This new standard supports the use of phone and video interpreting as part of a comprehensive plan.