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Video Interpreters Help Hospitals, Patients Connect


Twenty years ago, when Andrew Panos’ brother was involved in a car crash during a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, there were no interpretation services available at the hospital where he was taken.

When the family was finally able to get him to Los Angeles, doctors concluded that if he had stayed in Mexico another eight hours he would have died from blood poisoning.

This experience—and the realization that even in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, there was a serious need for fast, accurate healthcare interpretation services—prompted Andrew Panos to create the Language Access Network (LAN), a face-to-face live audio-video interpretation service, in 2003.

The system, My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter (MARTTI) is available in 23 hospitals. The system centralizes video interpretation into a center staffed by medically trained interpreter. In a hospital subscribing to the service, a provider can call LAN’s center in Columbus, Ohio, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Users can choose among 150 languages, including a range of Chinese dialects and American Sign Language, and access an on-screen interpreter.

To use the system, a hospital purchases a block of minutes each month; charges are incurred when interpretations are sought.

“Some people have referred to it as the OnStar of interpreting,” says Panos, referring to the vehicle security system. “They are finding it more affordable than the cost of having on-site interpreters or calling an agency and having to pay a two-hour minimum and then having a wait time of upward of an hour.”

Users can choose among 150 languages and access an on-screen interpreter.

LAN’s system is a boon for hospitals that deal daily with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

“For instance, in New York they’re demanding that interpreters be provided within 10 minutes,” Panos says. “Having an American Sign Language interpreter in that short a time has really put quite a burden on their hospitals. With our system, since it is available with the push of a button, the result has been amazing.”

At Boston Medical Center (BMC), implementing MARTTI has meant synchronizing the institution’s wireless system with LAN’s system.

“It’s been a marriage of the two,” says Oscar Arocha, director of interpreter services and guest support services at BMC. Its 44 full-time interpreters were already providing in-person interpreting wherever possible. Then the hospital began telephone interpretation, and has since installed MARTTI units.

It was crucial to Arocha and BMC’s administrators that the service be available wirelessly so video units could be wheeled from place to place. Desktop units are also available from LAN.

“The user turns the video unit on and waits two or three seconds for the operator to come up on screen,” says Arocha. “You ask for the language you want, and they connect you within seconds to minutes, depending on the requested language.”

If the requested language or dialect is not one available on video, LAN automatically seeks an interpreter who connects via audio.

At Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, a pilot program with the LAN system was set to go live in the emergency centers Nov. 1. Hospitalists and other providers can use this system in addition to personal and commercial telephone interpreters.

Yong S. Han, MD, a hospitalist at that institution, hopes the service enhances communication with patients and families. “Given that we have adopted family-centered rounding, this will also allow everyone to hear the conversation,” he says. “Additionally, it is pretty cumbersome and problematic switching the phone between the patient and the provider, so MARTTI should allow improvements in this arena.”

Information about the LAN system is available at TH

Andrea Sattinger is a medical journalist based in North Carolina

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