A new online translation system called V-See is helping Burmese patients to talk to their practitioners during medical appointments. The programme, which can be compared to the online communication system Skype, allows interpreters to assist the conversation between patient and Doctor without requiring their immediate presence in the consultation room.
The programme is a collaboration between five American Catholic institutions and provides an alternative to the charities’ existing service where two part-time interpreters can be sent out ‘on-call’ to appointments.
The main advantage of the system is its time and efficiency saving potential. This means two things: firstly that the ability to use interpreters online at short notice will improve the likelihood of all such appointments running to time (and thus affecting the overall day’s schedule); patients will no longer have to wait for their interpreter to physically arrive. Secondly it compares favourably with the existing service as it enables an increased frequency of appointments using translation. The collaboration reports that the system’s implementation (in December) has increased the daily average number of appointments from one or two to between ten and twenty.
On a practical and budgetary level the system is certainly productive, yet it also rates favourably on a personal level with patients. In a medical consultation it is not necessary for an interpreter to physically be in the room with the person they are interpreting for (as may be the case in court or a prison visit), this means that the patient’s confidentiality and modesty are more likely to be preserved. Attending a medical appointment can be stressful especially if a physical examination is required, having a third party in the room with you is therefore likely to increase the level of stress or potential embarrassment felt. Using this online system means that you can divert the interpreter’s camera away during times that may affect your modesty, whilst the practitioner could still see the interpreter’s face onscreen if they needed to use their facial expressions.
The programme also has a secondary set of advantages in seeking to provide a way to narrow the cultural gap between Burmese patients and their practitioners. Interpreters would also provide patients with basic factual information on topics ranging from how to use public transport to attend an appointment to waiting room protocol and even the American medical insurance system. Many of these subjects are alien to refugees from Burma and therefore are only likely to increase the communicative barriers that stand between them and accessing medical assistance.
The programme’s initial success on some floors of the charities’ Parkview Hospital has led to plans for its complete introduction across the entire building and the nearest other facility, Parkview North. In the future if the programme could be widened to include other languages across the entire USA then it could really improve the efficiency of the American medical system and the confidence it inspires within its non-English speaking patients.