New EMS 'translating cot' a little too honest for comfort

A new EMS cot with built-in audible translator conveys more information between patient and medic than intended


CHICAGO — Chicago medics beta testing an EMS cot with voice-recognition software fear an attempt to streamline communication with non-English-speaking patients has backfired.

"We're having some small issues with accuracy," said Chicago Paramedic Hans Trembles. "It's a little too accurate."

In a city known for its wide diversity of ethnicities, the cot, called Translate Every Language in Secure Audible Wireless Link (TELSAWL), was designed as a quality-control measure for patient conversations.

With built-in microphones and speakers, and a microcomputer with translation and voice-recognition software, TELSAWL records and transmits the medic-patient conversations to a central computer.

Eventually, that link will go directly to hospital emergency departments.

Trembles reluctantly handed over the transcript of a call last week involving a woman who is a frequent flyer:

TELSAWL: "What screwy made-up condition is it today? We know you're faking it."

Woman: "I feel dizzy, short of breath."

TELSAWL: "She says she smokes and drinks too much and grew bored so she dialed 911 for the fifth time this month. [To the patient] You think we're a taxi service? You know there are people with real illnesses waiting for us?"

TELSAWL has been heard letting out groans when loaded with a bariatric patient and offering relationship advice to a domestic-abuse patient, Tremble said.

Once, it tried to entice Tremble into an over-under bet on how long the patient would live.

"Even if the patient had survived the night, how do you give 10 bucks to a talking cot?"

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