NEW YORK--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--Of the 30 million people who will enter our already overburdened healthcare system as result of the Affordable Care Act, nearly one-third will not speak English as their primary language. These patients are the most likely to fall through the cracks, and will need special services to navigate the healthcare system. Today, each US hospital spends nearly $1 million annually to employ networks of in-person and telephone interpreters to serve these patients. These systems will be dangerously overburdened as needs of limited English proficient (LEP) patients grow dramatically.
“We know that medical professionals want to use interpreters, but don’t because it often takes too much time to access them. So how can we make 100% accurate interpretation for medicine as easy as clicking a button?”
While hospitals’ interpretation services will struggle to meet demand, it only reflects a fraction of the real need. Interpreters are actually commonly underused because medical personnel often have to wait for in-person interpreters to be available, or have to go out of their way to find special hospital phones to call interpreters.
"Challenges in accessing interpreters include scarcity of in-person interpreters and logistics involved in using telephone interpretation in busy, hectic clinical settings. There is an important utility for more user friendly translation technologies to bridge gaps between patients and providers," said Dr. Adam Castano at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Language barriers lead to poor outcomes for patients and increased risks for hospitals. For example, in one horrifying case, a Spanish-speaking boy was misunderstood by a paramedic as saying he was intoxicated, instead of nauseated. He was mistakenly treated for drug abuse, suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, and became quadriplegic. The patient was awarded $71 million for malpractice. Similar stories repeat themselves with irreparable human costs and financial implications for the healthcare system. In a recent study, 2.5% of one malpractice insurance company’s lawsuits could be blamed on lack of use of interpreters, at a cost of $5 million to the company that year. In those cases, two children and three adults died.
Finding a solution to this growing problem has been the mission of the team at Canopy Apps in New York City, award recipient of National Institutes of Health funding. The team wants to completely eliminate language barriers in healthcare. CEO Jerrit Tan explains, “We know that medical professionals want to use interpreters, but don’t because it often takes too much time to access them. So how can we make 100% accurate interpretation for medicine as easy as clicking a button?” Building from this requirement, the company developed its language assistance “canopy”, an ecosystem of tools created by physicians that includes Canopy Translator, a mobile app to access thousands of pre-recorded medical phrases in 150 languages for routine patient encounters, and to call live telephone interpreters via a one-touch button for more complex conversations. Additionally, Canopy’s learning and credentialing services, which power the National Certification for Bilingual Healthcare Providers (NCBHP), offer training and certification to create more bilingual medical professionals. To date, dozens of institutions such as Duke University Medical System and the Hospice Foundation of America have deployed Canopy to cover their language assistance needs.