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For Doctors, There IS a Better Option Than Google Translate

Doctors often turn to Google Translate to talk to patients. They want a better option‘, writes Health Tech Correspondent Katie Palmer in STAT last month. As Palmer explains, online translation sites, such as Google Translate, do not provide the requisite accuracy, confidentiality, or nuance needed to support patients in critical healthcare settings. In highly charged medical situations, however, physicians can feel as if they do not have another option. For example, if their designated phone interpreter service does not provide immediate access to speakers of the correct language or dialect. Fortunately, it does not have to be this way.

Healthcare Providers Are Obliged to Provide Interpretation Services, But ‘Online’ Translation Is Not the Answer

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), healthcare providers must provide translation and interpretation services to their patients and accompanying family members. Failure to do so could result in fines, medical malpractice suits, and loss of federal funding. But the answer is not to turn to Google Translate. 

There are many reasons for this, from patient confidentiality to tone of voice:

  1. Online Translation Platforms Are Not Secure!
    You only have to check the terms and conditions to see that the use of online translation platforms, such as Google Translate, is not compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and associated regulations. Google not only harvests the data you enter to improve its service but also obtains the right to retain, reproduce, publish and modify any content entered into its translation platform.

    This should be a major red flag! If healthcare organizations are entering confidential and/or personally identifiable information (PPI) into the translation engine, they are risking serious protection and data privacy compliance failures. These can lead to potentially costly fines, legal fees, and damage to reputation.”
  2. Machine Translation Does Not Take Account of Context
    If a patient has limited ability to speak English, it can make diagnosing and caring for a patient especially challenging for clinicians. From the patient perspective, it can also make situations that are already alarming and confusing even more so.

    Repeated studies have demonstrated that professional healthcare interpretation enhances patient satisfaction and clinical care. Personal interpreters not only help to bridge the communication gap but are also trained to speak to patients with clarity and empathy. Such ‘soft’ skills can make all the difference at times of understandable concern and distress.
  3.  The Health and Organizational Risks Are Too High
    Sophisticated and secure machine translation engines can add value to healthcare providers for specific tasks. However, there is a time and a place for this technology to be used. Highly charged healthcare settings are not one of those times.

    Using machine translation when patient health is at stake is far from best practice. At such times, getting the gist across is not good enough. What is required is 100% accuracy in translations. From patient harm to medical malpractice, the risks of not doing so are too costly to avoid. 

Choose A Vendor Who Fully Supports Your  Healthcare Needs

Palmer explains in the article that physicians can feel left with little choice but to use Google Translate if they can’t get through to an interpreter who speaks the specific dialect of their patient. However, the problem here lies in your choice of vendor, rather than the appropriate use of technology.

If your current translation and interpreting vendor does not speak the languages and dialects you and your patients need or does not provide language access promptly, now may be the time to consider switching to a new supplier.

BIG Language Solutions has been helping medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies to communicate effectively with their patients and user groups for nearly 50 years. Through our advanced over-the-phone (OPI) and video remote (VRI) interpretation services, we provide 24/7 access to a global network of interpreters who speak more than 300 languages and dialects. 

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