Technology and Translators in Healthcare

Originally published on the Responsive Translation blog and republished here with permission.


With more patients in the US uncomfortable in English, demand for translation is rising as healthcare providers search for technological fixes and cost controls.

The 21% of US residents speaking a language other than English at home and the 9% not fluent in English face language barriers that make good medical care more difficult, reports Sophie Quinton in the National Journal. They are more likely to be hospitalized for longer periods and to experience more medical trouble when they’re in the hospital, according to Glenn Flores, director of the general pediatrics division at the University of Texas Southwestern and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

“While today’s digital tools can help communicate basic information across language barriers, there’s not yet a digital substitute for a trained medical interpreter or a fully bilingual practitioner. And some experts say that translation apps and other tools can even be dangerous if they lead to incomplete communication,” Quinton writes.

Patients and doctors need to communicate accurately about symptoms, medical history, prescriptions, and procedures. “If you just have a simple tablet that asks, do you have pain or not, that’s going to give people a false sense of security,” Flores told Quinton. “You’re going to end up putting people at risk.”

However, machine translation and other automation technologies may make a great deal of sense for the day-to-day work of ensuring patient comfort and safety in the ward. One interesting solution by Transcendent Endeavors, called Starling, is a touchscreen picture board placed by the patient’s bedside. A patient who taps the toilet icon pictured on the screen, for example, is sending a clear message to the attending nurse’s mobile device of his intentions. Pretty handy, but no substitute for a conversation.

For more, read Speaking the Language of Health Care by Sophie Quinton, a great summary for people new to healthcare translation.


Nucleus Medical Media uses Responsive Translation (formerly 1-800-Translate) to translate animations into multiple other languages. Responsive Translation was certified by BSI Group America, Inc. on October 16, 2008 for ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 13485:2003 to meet customer requirements in products and services in the medical field. Check out all of Nucleus’s translated animations on YouTube.