Internet network solves multi language needs for hospital.

Internet network solves multi language needs for hospital.


California, USA


San Mateo Medical Center aims to lower language barriers

by Laura Cutland

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal - February 13, 2006


San Mateo Medical Center have introduced an internet based system to bring together medical interpreters to its hospitals and clinics. This technology now enables medical translators and interpreters to offer their expertise where and when they are need since they don’t have to be physically present when the patient is with a medical staff. In a way, the network is an internet based video conferencing system, where the language expert help doctor and patient communicate with each oter.

The county hospital estimates that 35 percent of its patients are not English proficient.


- Phone based professional interpreters cost $4 a minute and do not include the visual element.

- In the past it took between 30 minutes to an hour and a half to find a medical interpreter, now it takes less than two minutes.

- The new service now costs 75 cents per minute, with an expected savings of $100,000 p.a from the interpreter budget.

- The combined investment, from charity funds, was $1m.

- According to the CEO, the return on investment is safety and quality.


- Is IT an opportunity to solve multi-language communication difficulties?

- How does this absence of a common language affect the doctor-patient relationship?

- Isn't the language factor reducing health care into and even more mechanical activity?

- Although, the medical staff can communicate with non-English speakers, how are they taking into account the cultural factor in their consultations?

- How does this system cope with such needs as psychological treatment, psychiatric treatment, depression or other mental type problems when communication needs to be more than a description of a physical symptoms?


- Would a similar solution work in other environments? For example, retail, law or within international companies?

- In a way, this language identity, together with cultural identity, is separating where we live from how we live. Identity is no longer linked to the land, but to some metaphysical entity we might call language/culture identity.

- What are the socio-political repercussions of this separation of identity?

- How is this identity issue affecting foreign policies and international relationships for governments?


Is it feasible, and what are the investment costs, for a government to introduce a similar multi-language network system, state wide, NHS wide and country wide?

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