Creating a Video-Medical Spanish Interpreting System in Six Rural Nebraska Counties

Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center Site Profile

Field of Work: Helping health care organizations meet the challenge of providing language services and signage to Latinos.

Problem Synopsis: According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2000 census, more than 28 million Latinos in the United States over the age of 5 spoke Spanish at home. Among those, almost 9 million said they spoke English "not well" or "not at all," according to the census. Those numbers have climbed through the decade, with Latinos becoming the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States.

The far-flung population of rural Nebraska needed more translation services in its hospitals, but in the early 2000s demand was not sufficient for each hospital to hire its own translators. To fill the gap, the Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center partnered with six not-for-profit Nebraska hospitals to introduce a videoconferencing system.

Synopsis of the Work: The participating hospitals were connected to a videoconferencing system through a new statewide communications network, the Nebraska Statewide Telehealth Network, which operated through a collaboration of hospitals and public health departments that was subsidized by the Nebraska Public Services Commission.

Key Results

  • Four hospitals began using the system in 2005, and two more were hooked up the following year. Other hospitals that were not hooked up to the videoconferencing system could access the center's medical interpreters by telephone.

  • The health education center worked with Central Community College, a two-year public institution, to develop a training program for medical interpreters.

  • Sixteen students completed the Central Community College medical interpreter certificate program by September 2005. Most of the interpreters employed by the health education center were certified through the program.

  • In general, health care providers were slow to adopt videoconferencing. Some of the partner hospitals eventually hired in-house interpreters and some providers continued to use their own hospitals' contract telephone interpretation services. Although the center expanded videoconferencing to a sixth site, in Hamilton County, continued low use of the service led to cutbacks. As of April 2007, the center employed only two full-time and three part-time interpreters.

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