Medical Translation Apps: First Do No Harm?

Used wisely, technology can be a helpful tool for communicating across language barriers. However, there are some situations where an app just won’t cut it.

Is healthcare one of those situations? New applications promise to help doctors and nurses communicate with patients who don’t speak English, a tempting prospect for cash-strapped hospitals in the US and the UK alike. For example, a recent story on profiled two medical translation apps developed by Transcendent Endeavors. One app relies on a tablet touchscreen to help patients relay basic needs to the nurses who care for them, while another helps health care providers communicate basic medical instructions to patients.

The key word here is “basic,” and critics say that’s the problem. The  level of communication provided by translation apps is simply too basic to be helpful in a medical setting, and may even cause harm.

Dr. Glenn Flores, the director of the general pediatrics division at the University of Texas Southwestern and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, explained his concerns to

“The medical encounter is incredibly complex and nuanced. If you just have a simple tablet that asks, do you have pain or not, that’s going to give people a false sense of security. You’re going to end up putting people at risk.”

Nextgov points out that medical translation involves more than just language; trained medical interpreters can often help physicians understand important cultural factors that might affect the patient’s symptoms or care, like traditional remedies that could be harmful.

In the future, medical translation apps may improve to the point where they can play a valuable role in healthcare, according to Dr. Flores:

“What I think is exciting, but it’s probably a number of years away, is we may at some point have a smartphone that’s able actually to provide state-of-the-art, spoken-language translation,” Flores says—a tool that accurately translates spoken language in real time. Google Translate’s speech-enabled smartphone apps, an early attempt at this, aren’t always grammatically accurate, he says, and shouldn’t be used in a health-care setting.

At least for now, a trained medical interpreter is the safest, most reliable option for ensuring every patient gets the care they need.


Translation at the Pharmacy Show

Come and see us at the Pharmacy Show

We are attending the 2014 Pharmacy Show at the NEC in Birmingham on the 5th and 6th of October, that’s this weekend. We’ll be able to show you the benefits of providing your pharmaceutical content in different languages and how it helps you to reach a much wider audience of potential customers.

For more information, access to our pharmaceutical translation brochure and where to find our stand, just click here:

Visitors to our stand can also register their details with our team to receive 10% off their first translation order.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Medical Translation App

Ideally, every medical patient would have access to an interpreter who speaks their language. However, these services aren’t always available, and when doctors and patients can’t communicate effectively, the consequences can potentially be devastating.

Late one night, Brad Cohn and Alex Blau, two medical students at the University of California in San Francisco, shared stories of language barriers they’d experienced while trying to treat patients and wondered, “Why isn’t there an app for that?” Inspired, they decided to build one.

In an article on the University of California website, Blau explained:

“Ninety percent of diagnoses come from the patient’s self-reported medical history, so the ability to communicate is critical. Time is not an asset doctors or patients have. You need that information when you need it.”

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