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Home > EMS Products > Communications
May 14, 2013
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Insights on Innovation
by Dan White

Medical translation tools break language barriers

There's a range of options on the market to help EMS providers better communicate with patients

One of the biggest challenges in EMS is communicating with people and patients who do not speak English. A language barrier can be an enormous problem preventing accurate assessment and good quality care. Fortunately, we have some good solutions in three basic flavors.

We have basic graphic tools or text-based "book" solutions, new smartphone programs, and a new service solution that puts you in immediate contact with a live translator.

The simplest of these is the Emergency Medical Translator from Kwikpoint. It was originally developed with the FDNY. It uses graphics to facilitate basic communication to overcome language barriers when no translator is available.

Topics include car crashes, assaults, sex crimes, falls and other emergencies. Related topics include pain symptoms, medications, overdoses, allergic reactions and toxic ingestion.

It also includes critical words and phrases with phonetic pronunciations in nine languages. The compact pocket-sized laminated chart format makes it easy to carry and easy to wipe clean.

I've carried the Communimed in my personal kit for years. It helps you obtain answers to key medical questions from victims, bystanders, or care providers who don't speak English. A total of 46 questions are translated into the 20 most common languages.

You turn to the required language and on one side you have the questions and multiple-choice answers in English, and on the right you have this repeated in the required language. You just point at the question you want to ask, and the other person points to the answer.

I've used it many times. It can really help get the essential information. I'll never forget the time I did a pretty comprehensive cardiac workup in Portuguese. The ED was pretty impressed by the detailed history I was able to get from a patient I could not speak with.

The EMS Translator Field Guide, Spanish Edition is designed to facilitate communication between English-speaking providers and Spanish-speaking patients. It works a lot like Communimed, but replies more on simple yes or no responses.

There are quite a few translator programs available for smart phones. Here are two that have been favorably reviewed.

The Palm OS Medical Translator contains a list of basic phrases that a first responder commonly uses, with the English and foreign language translations. The program currently supports English and Spanish, and there is a phonetic version to help you pronounce the words.

iTranslate is an award winning translation tool for iPad or iPhone that helps you break down language barriers. It can translate between more than 60 languages. It combines machine translation with a custom built technology to serve you the most accurate translation results in the blink of an eye. 

You can use iTranslate as a translation dictionary for many languages. The best part: you can even help improve the dictionary database by rating or suggesting translations.

iTranslate offers Text-to-Speech implementation powered by iSpeech. You can select between lots of different dialects, choose a male or female voice and even control the speaking rate. 

By upgrading to the premium version for 5$/year you can speak instead of type. No training needed. Just start speaking and it transforms what you said into text and translates it into another language. Voice recognition is powered by Nuance, the most accurate voice recognition technology currently available on this planet. 

Do Chinese characters look like hieroglyphs to you? With romanization you can turn 你好 into this Nǐ hǎo! Transform non-Latin languages into Latin characters. This feature is available for many languages including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Hindi, Russian and Thai. 

iTranslate is optimized for fast text input. Get suggestions while you're typing, turn your phone to the side and use both hands for typing with the bigger landscape keyboard or use our popular swipe gestures for quick copying & pasting. 

You can send or store translations via Email, or simply copy a translation and use it in any App you like. Browse through recent translations or save a translation for offline access.

The ELSA (Enabling Language Services Anywhere) is a best in class translation service solution. It combines a wearable hands free autodialing cell phone with a sophisticated back end support network.

You push one button on ELSA and you are immediately connected through their operating center to a live interpreter. It is a cost-effective, anytime and anywhere interpretation service.

ELSA provides immediate communication in 180 languages. It is ideal for emergency medical services. The device is durable and can be worn on a belt, shirt or around the user's neck.

Once connected you ask your question, and the operators translates to the patient. When the patient replies, the operator translates into English. It is easy to use and unlimited in application. It is just like having a translator with you.

Each of the interpreters are thoroughly screened and have situation-related experience. They are proficient in English and one or more of 180 languages and dialects,

ELSA provides low-cost, real-time communication between people who speak different languages in virtually any situation or environment. 

All conversations are recorded and stored on their servers for retrieval anytime. They maintain these audio records for five years. Check out the videos here.

Once we only had only hand gestures. Now we have some excellent tools available. These products can turn a frustrating situation into just another run. Especially in urban areas with many different languages being spoken, they can be invaluable.

About the author

Dan White, EMT-P works for Intersurgical, Inc. as the National Account Manager for EMS. Immediately prior he ran Arasan, LLC. He served as Sales & Marketing Director for Truphatek, Inc. and before that Director of Corporate Planning & Product Development for AllMed. He has been certified as a paramedic since 1978 and an EMS and ACLS instructor since 1981. Dan has designed many emergency medical products since his first, the White Pulmonary Resuscitator, including the Prolite Speedboad, Cook Needle Decompression Kit and RapTag Triage System. His more recent EMS product designs are the Arasan Ultra EMS Coat and the B2 Paramedic Helmet. To contact Dan, email dan.white@ems1.com.

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