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Device Addresses Healthcare Language Barrier 159

Posted by timothy
from the babelfish-too-accurate dept.
Zothecula writes "With over 170 languages spoken in the US alone, medical personnel attending an emergency or working in a busy hospital are no doubt often faced with communication problems when trying to dispense treatment. The Phrazer offers a possible solution to this problem. It is billed as the world's first multilingual communication system, where patients provide medical background information, symptoms or complaints with the help of a virtual onscreen doctor speaking in their own native tongue. This information is then summarized into a medical record compatible with all major EMR systems." All that for only 12 to 18 thousand dollars.
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Device Addresses Healthcare Language Barrier

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  • With the low cost of modern computer technology, why does this device have to be THAT pricey? Just wondering.

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @12:31AM (#35328458) Homepage Journal

      With the low cost of modern computer technology, why does this device have to be THAT pricey? Just wondering.

      Low volumes. They might put one into every ambulance and ten into each emergency department but thats not the same as selling ipods or iphones by the million.

      Funny story: my son was in hospital and I had him psyched up for a blood test. Not easy, I knew it was going to be a battle. Then the nurse wheeled in this big machine with gadgets hung on the outside. It looked like a torture machine from star wars. Of course he freaked out. It was their jazzed portable video player. Meant to distract the kids but it didn't work for us.

      • by aqui (472334)

        I work in healthcare IT now (I previously worked in manufacturing) the item probably costs less than a thousand to produce, but the medical world is willing to pay for it.
        Frankly my experience in Manufacturing was if you needed $2 to do something right you'd be lucky to get a budget of $1. In healthcare if you need $2 to do it right you'll get $10 budgeted and nobody will complain if you spend $14 by the time you're done. Doctor's and clinical staff don't understand IT and generally despite any advice give

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Because they have to get the translations right. If you're fine with the translations being close you can go with cheep technology, but in cases like this being close isn't really that much better than not knowing anything, in fact it might be better not to have a bad translation. A relatively minor glitch in the translation might very well give you a much worse picture of what's going on than a bit of ad hoc sign language would.

      Plus, you can also have a set of cards asking for the most common questions tha

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by amnesia_tc (1983602)
        So cheap they can't even afford to use different vowels in the word "cheep"
        • are you hard of hearing? I still read allowed, when I'm allowed, or if my allowance has come threw I get some1 at the libraee to reed it out 2 me.

          Good job he ain't 733t.

    • by twebb72 (903169)

      With the low cost of modern computer technology, why does this device have to be THAT pricey? Just wondering.

      Are you kidding? You must not be familiar with the US health care system...

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      Medical liability insurance.

    • by tomhudson (43916)
      Because it also includes a way to subdue uppity patients. "Phrazer on stun!"
    • It's a medical computer device. Duh.

  • With a flick of his magical cane he can diagnose anything.

    I think i'll wait until theres a app for my iphone for $2.99

    • With a flick of his magical cane he can diagnose anything.

      I think i'll wait until theres a app for my iphone for $2.99

      The first thing that app will tell you is "I don't care what the symptoms are, it's not Lupus."

      • by Rivalz (1431453)

        What sucks is I've stopped watching the show after a few years thinking one season finale everyone he treats will have lupus.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      You mean by randomly trying every medication they have in the hospital and doing every test procedure they can do he finally stumbles upon it. Which is a little less cool than using a magical cane.

      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        You mean by randomly trying every medication they have in the hospital and doing every test procedure they can do he finally stumbles upon it. Which is a little less cool than using a magical cane.

        Didn't Microsoft patent a wand?

      • by KWTm (808824) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @04:20AM (#35329230) Journal

        You mean by randomly trying every medication they have in the hospital and doing every test procedure they can do he finally stumbles upon it. Which is a little less cool than using a magical cane.

        Took the words right out of my mouth.

        I hadn't seen the TV show House M.D. till last week. As a physician, I had been seeing patients from time to time comment about this TV show, so finally I got around to watching a few episodes.

        I didn't get it at all. This guy is supposed to be some unpersonable irascible doctor who somehow makes up for it by being such a brilliant diagnostician that other doctors are forced to come to him. WTF??? How do you pick up diagnostic clues without having the patient warm up to you so you can understand the details of his/her illness in context? Not to mention that the systematic testing and narrowing in on diagnostic possibilities, that process which on this TV show is supposed to be what makes Dr.House so brilliant, is what all of us doctors do on a daily basis anyway.

        If there were a "House, I.T." equivalent, it would feature some supposedly brilliant I.T. tech support guy who refused to touch the computer. His underlings would overcome this deficiency by reading the dmesg logs to him word for word, and then House would come up with some purportedly brilliant insight like "We need to upgrade the video drivers!" at which point all would fall on their knees in fawning worship, chanting "No one else would ever have been able to figure that out!" ... I guess to be on-topic, I should talk about this device. Yes, it's nice to have a portable multilingual multimedia medical dictionary around, but this device is hardly newsworthy. Guess what? My Nokia N900 smartphone running Python, Bash and SSHd is also capable of implementing a system to overcome language barriers! It's called ... making a phone call to an interpreter service! (Also available on non-Linux smartphones, non-smart cellphones, and non-cell phones.)

        Day of disillusionment. Might as well go all the way. Okay, Slashdot, tell me about how new Electronic Medical Record policies will cure my patients.

        • by dbIII (701233)
          I got sucked in and started watching the whole thing from scratch starting about a month ago. I get the impression that it's a black comedy where he's the bastard doctor from hell that runs up millions in tests and hurts patients but typically gets it right after a lot of false starts to avoid it being a tragedy.
        • by Blymie (231220)

          Don't watch any more, I beg you.

          Watching a TV show about your profession, is like watching teaching videos which are designed to teach you how to do everything wrong.

          These teaching videos are coupled with strange music, which convey emotion in places that no normal person would feel strong emotion. They portray professionals acting as drama queens, as children, incapable of performing their job.

          This is quite literally part of the problem with modern society. Heck, want to marry living hell? Marry a chick

          • by nedlohs (1335013)

            Why?

            House is still pretty good TV, Hugh Laurie makes up for a lot of short comings in other areas. Of course that's a matter of taste and many people disagree but it's pretty much independant of it being realistic.

            it's not supposed to be realistic, it is after all a TV show. CSI isn't realistic either, nor is White Collar. House isn't about the medicine, it's about the characters. Just like West Wing wasn't about the runnings of Government but about the characters.

            Yes if you treat House as a teaching video

          • Well. I enjoy watching The IT Crowd.

            Maybe because I did actually at one point in my life work for a company that was not too different from Raynholm Industries. Like, I guess, everyone. It was not AS over the top, and we did actually work from time to time. But else... the condescension, the IT gadgets, the characters, even the pranks... It's almost a documentary.

        • by dwillden (521345)
          Yes, but can your "Cell Phone" thingie do all that and cost the hospital 12-18k pop?

          God call doc. Nothing like a new massively overpriced gadget to drive health care costs up even more.
        • by PCM2 (4486)

          WTF??? How do you pick up diagnostic clues without having the patient warm up to you so you can understand the details of his/her illness in context?

          Here's the deal:

          • House M.D. was conceived as a medical take on the Sherlock Holmes concept. The lead character's name is House (as in "homes"). His best friend is Wilson (Watson). He resides at 221B Something-street. He doesn't treat patients, he solves medical mysteries.
          • The genesis of the show was a series of essays that appeared in the New Yorker, called "Annals of Medicine," which presented unusual and often striking medical cases. Several of these cases have been directly adapted into House episodes.
          • In
          • by PCM2 (4486)

            Oh -- and one of the central themes of the show (and how they get away with House having his unusual diagnostic approach), is that House believes it doesn't matter how much you "warm up" to your patients, because everybody lies, and the more critical the condition, the bigger the lies. So the classic example is the wife who keeps concealing information and giving red herrings because it turns out she got her disease by sleeping with her husband's best friend.

  • All that for only 12 to 18 thousand dollars.

    If it's only $12k - $18k for the system, well, that's a bargain. If it's $12k - $18k for using the service, well, I doubt my health insurance is going to cover it.

  • With over 170 languages spoken in the US alone, medical personnel attending an emergency or working in a busy hospital are no doubt often faced with communication problems when trying to dispense treatment.

    And how many non-English monolingual people are there in the US?

    • With over 170 languages spoken in the US alone, medical personnel attending an emergency or working in a busy hospital are no doubt often faced with communication problems when trying to dispense treatment.

      And how many non-English monolingual people are there in the US?

      Well if its my mother in law you will have a choice between cantonese, mandarin and hokkien but if an ambulance crew need to get information from her they will have to resort to translation.

    • And how many non-English monolingual people are there in the US?

      Quite a few, and far more who can order a sandwich or find a restroom but get stumped by 'Do you have a family history of hypertension or cardiac arrhythmia?'

      • by VTI9600 (1143169)

        Many (nay, most) native English speakers would be stumped by:

        'Do you have a family history of hypertension or cardiac arrhythmia?'

        That's why doctors say "high blood pressure" and "irregular heartbeat". And those who have trouble understanding terms like these will have trouble with more than just ordering sandwiches. You can't, for instance, just point to a driver's license application and say, "I want this".

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      tens of millions.

      Plus some tourists.

      Plus the people who can usually speak English but while in shock or just after suffering head trauma can't manage it for a little while.

      Plus the people who have can speak English for every day life but can't quite pull off medical terminology.

    • by godrik (1287354)
      "And how many non-English monolingual people are there in the US?" Actually quite a bit. My wife occasionnaly work as a korean interpret for columbus (Ohio) hospitals. And she has a case every week with the hospital. Sometimes, it is not that the patient does not speak english, but s/he doesnot feel confident enough in english to fully understand what the doctor says. Some other times, the patient is a housewife who spent time with her (korean) friends and probably do not speak english every week. I am not
    • If they can't communicate with their medical care givers, that number will quickly shrink to a number that's irrelevant. ;)

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @12:32AM (#35328470)

    ... the only phrase it knows is "Perhaps today is a good day to die". That keeps the whole health care process pretty simple.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Please fondle my buttocks!"

  • Can they really call it a doctor? Don't get me wrong, I'd be super impressed if it works even 95% accurate for that many languages, but isn't this just a translation assistant that could be used in any number of other circumstances? I wouldn't be surprised if it's an offshoot of the military tech used for on the ground translation.

    Personal pet peeve: if they can do this kind of interpersonal interface, where the hell is my personal assistant that does all my scheduling, pays my bills, and reorders my basic

  • Idiocracy predicted [flickr.com] this.
  • English & Spanish != 170 languages

    Let's be practical here...move 170 multilingual people to another country and you can make the exact same claim. This really seems like overkill for any practical purpose.

    • by mooingyak (720677)

      English and Spanish are without a doubt the two most common languages spoken in the US. But it's a rare day that I can get to work (in Manhattan) without hearing at least four languages spoken -- most often English, Spanish, German (tourists. whenever there are non-English speaking tourists in NYC, they are inevitably German) and some form of Chinese, but I lack the skill to tell the dialects apart. Less often I get Russian, Greek, Korean, Vietnamese, French, or Hindi. About once a week I hear something

      • some form of Chinese, but I lack the skill to tell the dialects apart.

        It's hard, especially since regional accents tend to affect the sound more than the actual dialect, a Cantonese person speaking Mandarin still sounds very Cantonese. But since you seem to be interested.

        Mandarin is now the most commonly heard but twenty years ago it was never spoken outside of mainland China. You tend to hear it spoken by newer immigrants and students, often young girls chatting noisily on the train. Unlike other dialects,

  • "Drop your panties, Sir William; I cannot wait until lunchtime!"

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @01:23AM (#35328658) Homepage Journal
    I'm a physician, and this kind of stuff is medical shovelware. It will be sold to some poor hospital administrator somewhere who is not medically trained but who thinks that this sounds like a right easy solution to the problem of those non-English-speaking people who keep bumping up the delay times in the ER (a real problem in parts of the country that are just now seeing significant Hispanic influx, like much of the South and Midwest). Meanwhile, the doctors and nurses at the front line will find it ill-suited to what they actually need to accomplish. Flash cards work pretty well for most communication to rule out immediately life-threatening illnesses. After that, you really need a highly qualified translator. Maybe in five years, or a decade, machines will be at that point (although they'll be Google Translate's server farms, not some hand-held piece of junk), but they're not there yet, and it's wasteful and stupid to pretend that they are.
    • by deuist (228133)

      Plus, we already have translation phones that do this. My hospital has a contract to a language line where I make a call to a 1-800 number, punch in my access code, and can find a translator for any language in less than a minute. In the past year I've used Spanish, Italian, Russian, Albanian, Chinese and Czech. I can get through the patient interview and even give discharge instructions with relative ease. And if I can't find the translator phone, Google translate works in a pinch.

  • As someone who has been getting treated for a couple years at numerous hospitals. I find that commonly I have communication problems with the nurses. For a seemingly uncommon number of them English was not their first language (anecdotal xp of course). Unfortunately, their English skills are lacking. Many times I wonder if they understand what the patient is saying, or if they just nod there head and carry on their routine. I am in no way diminishing their ability, dedication or intellect. Just that

  • I live in Belgium. Every communication system I work on is multilingual and has been for many years.

  • by tetromino (807969) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @04:52AM (#35329320)
    who are wondering why healthcare language barrier is such a major issue in America:
    • In major US cities, there are a lot of people who were born overseas and don't known English well. They include foreign tourists (whose grasp of English may be limited to a few dozen phrases from a guidebook); recently arrived immigrants who haven't had time to fully learn the language; and residents of ethnic enclaves who don't know much English because they don't need to — 95% of their daily communication is in another language.
    • Human biology being what it is, the people who are the most likely to find themselves in need of medical attention are old. And old people universally suck at languages. They have trouble remembering new vocabulary, they have trouble getting the pronunciation right, and when they get stressed (such as when they are in a hospital due to a sudden medical problem), they tend to forget English words and phrases and have to resort to their native language.
    • Even foreigners who know English fairly well may have trouble with medical vocabulary (if you don't believe me, here is a quick illustration: if there is a foreign language that you think you know pretty well, try saying "irregular heartbeat" or "intestinal bleeding" in it). Not to mention the prevalence of false cognates (e.g. "angina" means "chest pains" in English and "tonsillitis" in Russian) and the fact that different countries often use completely different names for the same drug.
  • Seems like it would cover this and is already used. Canadian hospitals and clinics have a translation card. The patient points to their language a call is made to the translation service and someone who speaks that language is put on the line. I'm guessing it would take a lot of those calls to justify even a single unit at 1 hospital.

    • by Blymie (231220)

      Unless you are in Quebec.

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Unless you are in Quebec.

        ... because most hospital staff are bilingual, as are most patients ...

        Can't say that for large swaths of the RoC (Rest of Canada).

        And now that the Quebec government has mandated that french-speaking students devote half their time in grade 6 to a one-year intensive english training class, it will only get better. This is over and above the teaching of english as a second language starting in grade 1 that has been in place for years.

        http://www.cyberpresse.ca/le-soleil/actualites/education/201102/24/0 [cyberpresse.ca]

        • by Blymie (231220)

          Ah, but my point was about the unilingual person in Quebec. Specifically, the unilingual english speaker.

          There have been cases where hospital staff have been *ordered* not to speak english to people, even if they can. French only!

          No, I'm not making this up. I know people that left Quebec because of it, and there were accusations of a mortally wounded elderly woman being treated this way in a Gatineau hospital.

          Racism knows no bounds... and Quebec is quickly becoming the least tolerant society in North Ame

          • by tomhudson (43916)
            English-language services are guaranteed in all Quebec hospitals by law. Sure, there have been times in the past when a hospital has been short-staffed, and people have hade to muddle through, but let's be honest ... if you're english and live in quebec, why not learn french? Knowing a second language helps delay alzhehimers by half a decade or more.

            It's not that hard. Even two-year-olds manage to pick it up.

            Racism knows no bounds... and Quebec is quickly becoming the least tolerant society in North Ame

            • by Blymie (231220)

              English-language services are guaranteed in all Quebec hospitals by law. Sure, there have been times in the past when a hospital has been short-staffed, and people have hade to muddle through,

              Hello?! How does the above relate to my original statement:

              "There have been cases where hospital staff have been *ordered* not to speak english to people, even if they can. French only!"

              There is a *vast* difference between there being a shortage of staff and having to 'muddle' through, and there being staff that speaks english but are told to NOT do so.

              You have ignored this statement, and even implied it has not happened in the past. It has. Repeatedly. In Gatineau.

              It is also, if you are a die-hard admi

              • by tomhudson (43916)
                You obviously don't know what you're talking about when you write this:

                Er. Americans?! Well, first, I assume you mean Loyalists, who were not Americans.. they were English. After all, they left the Southern Colonies after they rebelled....

                The Asbestos strike was in 1949 [wikipedia.org]. Not a couple of centuries ago. Just like racism is still alive and well in parts of the US today.

                It was the typical behaviour of American multi-nationals treating french-quebecers at the time. So when you write:

                anyone that says "200 y

                • by Blymie (231220)

                  You obviously don't know what you're talking about when you write this:

                  Er. Americans?! Well, first, I assume you mean Loyalists, who were not Americans.. they were English. After all, they left the Southern Colonies after they rebelled....

                  The Asbestos strike was in 1949 [wikipedia.org]. Not a couple of centuries ago. Just like racism is still alive and well in parts of the US today.

                  It was the typical behaviour of American multi-nationals treating french-quebecers at the time.
                  So when you write:

                  anyone that says "200 years ago, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents had $x happen to them, so I'm mad" is a moron. An absolute idiot.

                  ... you're the one being an "absolute idiot." A lot of these people are still alive.

                  Wow. Just -- wow.

                  Ok, fine... you're referencing something else. However, I assure you that most people outside of Quebec (and many people inside of Quebec), would not have caught this reference. After all, you simply stated 'the americans'.

                  After all, no one in the rest of Canada would think that "the americans" were responsible for the outcome of that strike. It was Quebecers that caused events to unfold as they did, NOT americans. A fanatically pro-business Conservative government -- elected by Quebec

                  • by tomhudson (43916)
                    Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. The same crap went on a second time with the Americans under the opening up of the oil patch, and a third time under NAFTA where we guaranteed them a minimum of 59% of our production no matter what.

                    And yes, it's as valid to blame American business interests for maintaining a corrupt local government, same as it was for the Banana Wars, or more recently, the Shah of Iran and their "best buddy" Sadaam Hussein while it was profitable for them.

                    Do you kn

                    • by Blymie (231220)

                      Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. The same crap went on a second time with the Americans under the opening up of the oil patch, and a third time under NAFTA where we guaranteed them a minimum of 59% of our production no matter what.

                      And yes, it's as valid to blame American business interests for maintaining a corrupt local government, same as it was for the Banana Wars, or more recently, the Shah of Iran and their "best buddy" Sadaam Hussein while it was profitable for them.

                      Good grief.

                      First, I have no idea what you mean by "the oil patch". Are you referring to the tarsands in Alberta? If so, what on earth does that have to do with the Americans?!

                      You do realise that the Alberta government *begged* anyone, foreign or domestic to work the tarsands, yes? There was no scam, no pressure from the Americans. Albertans *want* the oil out of the tarsands! It generates revenue for them! They democratically elected (and continue to elect) governments that *support* the tarsands bein

  • Shipboard fire survivor: "Keyser Soze"

    Phrazer:"It was Kevin Spacey"

  • This seems very useful for multi-ethnic countries. In USA everybody is sort of expected to learn English (though many people never do, or at least not good enough to be able to communicate their medical history). In other parts of the world, people with different native languages coexist in same countries or even same towns and villages, and none are expected to have a good grasp of the local majority language.

    Does it handle drugs though? To be fully useful for tourists or recent immigrants, it should hold

  • "Do you have insurance or will you be paying cash?" in 170 languages?
  • Why not do the same thing the rest of the world is seemingly capable of, and educate people to be apt in more than their native tongue?

    A perspective:
    "All over the world children receive foreign language education at an early age. In 2002 the EU member states signed the ‘Treaty of Barcelona’, thereby stating their intention to start foreign language education in primary school at the earliest possible age. " - http://www.earlybirdie.nl/english [earlybirdie.nl]

  • So, is it called Gokubi or have they upgraded to Mandarax?

  • cost less than an ambulance and could be as valuable for emergency medicine.

  • When speaking to a non-English speaker, they become all respectful and agreeable if you talk to them in English. But if you go through the trouble of learning their language, then their attitude becomes more disrespectful, and they get all mad when you do not act exactly like one of their kind. I've been brought up bilingual, but I say what's the point? It hasn't led to great jobs or any of the other hype that schools would have us believe. (And I am not anti-education, I am getting a PhD in a technical

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