Columbia hospital starts using video chat translators

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COLUMBIA - Boone Hospital has started using a new service that allows patients and staff to video chat with professional translators at a moment's notice. 

The "Video Remote Interpreting" (VRI) is a product of the technology company Stratus. The program is run off an ordinary iPad. The service can video call interpretors for 50 different languages, including American sign language.

First, a patient will select their language on the touchscreen tablet. The VRI will then connect the patient to a translator via video chat. Once the patient has found a translator, the two can talk back and forth, and discuss the patient's condition. The translator can then explain to hospital staff what is wrong. The tablets are mounted on stands that can be wheeled around, so the patient can keep his or her translator close at all times.

Boone Hospital spokesperson Martha Johnson said these new devices will make it much easier for non-English speaking patients to communicate with hospital staff. She said efficient communication is important because in a medical emergency, every second counts.

"Our doctors really like this because they can communicate in a timely manner with the patients," Johnson said. "In an emergency situation, where things are changing drastically at times, this allows the physician and our staff that comfort of being able to communicate appropriately and effectively with the patient."

Johnson said these devices would be useful at any hospital, but they are especially needed in Columbia due to the number of foreign students who go to school nearby.

"There are a lot of languages spoken around here, what with the university being in town."

Boone Hospital is not the only health care provider in Columbia to offer translation services. The University Hospital also offers a number of translation options through a language services department. This department offers assistance for non-English speaking patients and deaf patients. In addition to on sight translators, the University Hospital can also provide translators via video chat or telephone call. A University Hospital spokesperson told KOMU 8 News their staff is able to offer translation services in more than 400 languages, all at no additional cost to patients.

Johnson said Boone Hospital first started testing the video chat technology about a year ago. She said hospital staff loved the service so much, they decided to start using the VRI's on a larger scale.

"Within the past 30 days, we've deployed these iPads out to all of the units within the hospital, and in registration," Johnson said.

Medical emergencies will never be easy, but Johnson says she hopes more options for translation services will make trips to the hospital a little easier.