Translation Phones Provide Interpreters To Break Down Language Barrier For Doctors, Patients

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — More than 180 languages spoken in New York City – so if you don’t speak English and you have a medical emergency, how do you communicate with your doctor?

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, you can use special translation phones with a real person on the other end.

If you speak Spanish, Russian, Arabic or Mandarin, finding someone to interpret in New York City is not that hard. But that still leaves 175 languages – and speed and accuracy are critical when it comes to health care.

Lok Sing Yau was born with a leg deformity that has required multiple operations to correct. But the Flushing, Queens resident only speaks Cantonese.

What allows his surgeon, Dr. Austin Fragomen of the Hospital for Special Surgery, to communicate with Yau is what looks like an awkward version of a telephone operator.

But in between Yau’s handset and Dr. Fragomen is a live, medically trained Cantonese interpreter.

“Every problem in health care is communication. If communication is not clear and accurate, it can be not only inconvenient, but life-threatening,” Fragomen said.

A marketing video from LanguageLine Solutions shows how it works. Doctor and patient are each on one handset with the interpreter, who is actually in Texas, in between.

The setup makes it possible to communicate in literally dozens of languages. It is a little cumbersome, but critical.

“Without that, patients to just nod and say yes, no matter what language their native language is, to try to appease the doctor,” Fragomen said, “or their family member will be there and they’ll try and translate, and that’s not acceptable either.”

Bella Elogoodin, the head of language services at the hospital, said they start preparing for translation from the patient’s first contact.

“We get to ask them question related to, what is their preferred language? What is their preferred language for health care?” Elogoodin said.

CBS2’s Gomez asked Yau what he thought of the translation phones, and he said they make it as lot easier to understand his treatment – and of course, to tell the doctor how he was doing.

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