PrAACtical Resource: Free App for Medical Translation

April 26, 2012 by - Leave your thoughts

PrAACtical Resource: Free App for Medical Translation
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Conversations with health care providers can be confusing, particularly when medical 
terminology comes into play. But what if you and your doctor literally speak different languages? Yup, there’s an app for that.

Medibabble is an app that translates thousands of medical questions and instructions into five different languages (English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, Haitian Creole). The Spanish language option is preinstalled and the rest are easy in-app downloads. The app itself and all the languages are free. 

The main feature is a large database of questions, answers, and patient instructions that are organized by body systems (e.g., respiratory, digestive) and symptoms to allow medical staff to gather accurate case history information and convey information. There are also greetings/farewells, introductions (e.g., “I am your physical therapist), common responses (e.g., “Thank you for answering my questions”), and explanations (e.g., “Since an interpreter is not available immediately, this device will allow me to ask important questions in your language.” “I’ve come to check how you are feeling.”). The developers seem to have taken special care to be sensitive to delicate situations, providing gentle explanations when the topic is extremely personal or when discussing invasive exam procedures.

The app seems easy to use: Once the health care provider selects a question, it is translated and spoken aloud in the selected language. The text also appears on the screen. There is a guided tour of Medibabble built into the app for first-time users.

Medibabble creators

Communication is a two-way street, so we wondered what happens when the patient responds in a language you don’t understand. It actually works pretty well. The questions are specifically designed to require little or no language on the part of the patient (e.g., yes/no, pointing, holding up a number of fingers, etc.) or they can use the iDevice to point (e.g., date of birth, onset of symptoms).

While the initial idea for the app came from two medical students, the final database of questions/answers was developed by experienced and respected medical professionals under the leadership of Dr. Lawrence Tierney (University of California San Francisco  School of Medicine). In the next version, Medibabble will be available in French, German, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic in the next version, with additional languages to follow in subsequent editions

Apps like this are no substitute for a trained medical interpreter. But until help arrives, we think this tool will go a long way in helping to improve communication in medical settings.

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This post was written by Carole Zangari

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