CA hospital to introduce interpreters via videoconference

Patient Safety Monitor Insider

February 15, 2006

San Mateo (CA) Medical Center plans by the end of February to link with two other Northern California hospitals to videoconference between patients, physicians, and off-site translators, the San Mateo Daily Journal reports.

The program is the first in Silicon Valley for a public hospital and among the first in the state. At San Mateo Medical Center, 35% of patients require interpreters, hospital spokesperson David Hook told the newspaper. If staff or family members are unavailable to translate, a patient currently must wait or risk having medical terminology misinterpreted.

San Mateo Medical Center is scheduled to install the necessary equipment-including video monitors and dual handset phones-on February 28. San Joaquin County General Hospital and Contra Costa Regional Medical Center have already begun providing video translation services.

If an interpreter is unavailable on-site or a patient enters through the emergency department, the staff will call the Language Line and within three minutes has an interpreter ready at one of the other two hospitals. The patient and the doctor link up with the translator via the dual handsets.

Hook did not provide cost specifics. Grants and private donations are paying for the translator service; patients will not be charged for the service. In addition, 22 staff members were trained to be interpreters of Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, Russian, Hindi, Tongan, Punjabi, and Vietnamese.