Telephone Access to Interpreters Saves Time

Intervention Title:
Increasing Access to Phone-Based Interpreter Services With Mobile Conference Lines

Telephonic interpreter usage has increased 37 percent since staff education on interpreter policies and procedures. Being able to use a phone instead of in-person interpretation saved an enormous amount of time—on average, it took 20 minutes for an interpreter to get to a patient, but if a nurse uses an Interpreter Phone on a Pole (IPOP) to assess a patient’s pain level, the assessment can be done within three minutes.

St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center (SEMC)
736 Cambridge Street
Brighton, MA 02135

SEMC is a 252-bed tertiary care center located in Brighton, Massachusetts. For fiscal year 2011 SEMC had 62,619 unique patients for a total of 245,788 outpatient/13,983 inpatient/33,737 Emergency Department visits. St. Elizabeth’s is a major academic teaching facility affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine.

Carla Fogaren, RN
System Director of Diversity Initiatives and Interpreter Services
Steward Health Care
P: (781) 375-3197

Innovation Implementation:
Providing efficient language services can be exceedingly difficult for geographically diverse systems like St. Elizabeth’s. The time it takes for an interpreter to reach point A to point B is time that is not being spent interacting with patients, and can lead to a disconnect between the patient and the necessary services.

In an effort to minimize patient wait time and provide more efficient services, St. Elizabeth’s created a portable telephonic interpretation system known as the Interpreter Phone on a Pole, or IPOP. Essentially a portable Polycom conference phone system, the IPOP allows interpreters to interact with patients without having to physically travel to the patient’s room. This was found to be especially important in instances in which the patient needed immediate medication or was in pain. For example, if a nurse uses the IPOP to assess a patient’s pain level, the assessment can be done in three minutes, and the patient can get his or her medication that much sooner.

Staff at St. Elizabeth’s were extremely receptive to the new system. Not only did patient wait time decrease, but the volume of interpreter requests increased, signaling the increased confidence providers had in the interpretative services. Since the system has been in place, staff report that it saves time for the interpreter and allows patients’ needs to be met more quickly. It also frees up time for face-to-face encounters during clinical procedures where such interpretation may be more desirable and patient-centered.