Idaho hospital expands remote translation service

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Do you only speak Tzotzil? Or maybe you can only properly describe your symptoms in your native Chaldean. Don't worry, St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center has got you covered.

The hospital already had a contract to provide translators and a few Spanish-speaking employees. But someone wasn't always around to translate if a non-English speaking or deaf patient came into the emergency room or for Quick Care i.e., walk-ins with colds, injuries or infections that are urgent but not serious enough for the ER.

So the hospital started a pilot program in the emergency rooms in Twin Falls and at St. Luke's Jerome two years ago, using a remote translation service, said Malena Rodriguez, a nurse and the hospital's coordinator for language services.

The program, MARTTI (My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter), comes from the Language Access Network, an Ohio-based company that provides interpretive services to more than 350 hospitals and other medical venues nationwide. It looks like a laptop; you call and get connected to a call center with someone who speaks the language in question.

This spring, the hospital expanded the program, adding a MARTTI at Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum and getting a second one for Twin Falls that moves around the hospital, depending on where it's needed.

Rodriguez said the service gets a lot of use with hearing-impaired patients as well as those who speak foreign languages.

One patient who came in recently was struggling to communicate with the staff until they got an American Sign Language interpreter using the MARTTI, she said.

"She told me she needed help, and we were able to help her," Rodriguez said. "She left happy. She gave me a big hug."

The number of languages available keeps growing. For now, video translation is available for 31 languages and audio-only for 169 more.

The video translation is especially helpful because much communication comes from non-verbal cues, LAN Chief Operating Officer Andrew Panos said in a news release.

"By providing this tool for patients and health-care providers to communicate effectively, anxiety is reduced and outcomes are greatly improved," he said.

The video also can be turned off if a patient is in the middle of a medical procedure, Rodriguez said.

"It's kind of like pulling the curtain," she said.

The translator gets used at least once a day, Rodriguez said, as the area's non-English-speaking population continues to grow. Eight percent of the Twin Falls County population is foreign-born, and 14 percent speak a language other than English at home. Both numbers had risen about 2 percent since 2000.

Latinos — mostly Mexicans — make up 15 percent of the county population, up from 9 percent in 2000, and the numbers are higher in counties to the north and east.

And the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center has drawn people from around the world, including Eritreans, Burmese and Bosnians who end up settling in Twin Falls.


Information from: The Times-News,

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