Hospitals Prefer In-House Solutions For Medical Interpreting

Medical interpreting services using video conferencing

Helping Hands, Inc., a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Boston University School of Medicine, piloted shared medical interpretation services for non-English speaking patients in health care institutions in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Key Results

Under the grant, Helping Hands accomplished the following:

  • Marketed telephone-based (voice-only) and vmedical interpreting services to 220 hospitals in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut. Only 35 hospitals indicated an interest in participating in the voice-only services.
  • In response to a low initial volume of requests from hospitals, launched two separate promotions.
  • Conducted a survey of hospitals to understand the reasons for a low volume of requests. The respondents indicated that they had managed to meet their needs for medical interpreting services through their own staff or volunteers.
  • After eight months, discontinued the voice-only service due to low usage.
  • Subsequently piloted the delivery of medical interpreting services via videoconferencing with two New England hospitals. Because of limited institutional commitment to use the service and problems with the reliability of the equipment, Helping Hands discontinued the videoconferencing pilot.

Key Findings

Based on the pilot study, Helping Hands reported the following to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF):

  • When this pilot was undertaken, videoconferencing technology was not mature enough in terms of equipment reliability.
  • Non-English speaking patients did not find the videoconferencing approach intimidating. Patients generally liked the privacy of not having another person in the examining room with them.
  • Hospitals prefer to use their own staff or their volunteers to provide translation services.

Funding

RWJF provided $159,081 in funding to support the project from August 1994 to December 1997.