Grant translates into high-tech help for patients

Doctors and nurses at Community Regional Medical Center will soon be able to adapt to 170 languages on demand, in as little as one minute.

Community Medical Centers will benefit from a $170,000 grant from the California HealthCare Foundation to boost interpreter services at Community Regional Medical Center.

The grant will help pay for Community Regional’s participation in the Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN). This high-tech video language-interpretation service will enable doctors and staff to connect non-English-speaking patients with interpreters via live video conferences within as fast as one minute. HCIN is a system of shared remote interpreter services currently operated by public hospitals in Northern California. There are 13 California hospitals in the network.

Community board member Ralph Garcia was instrumental in facilitating this grant for the hospital.

“Bringing this innovative system to Community Regional and the Central Valley will not only provide more efficient interpreter services, but will significantly reduce the current cost to Community for interpreters and translation services,” Garcia said.

Currently, Community Regional relies on local interpreters trained in medical interpretation, a telephone interpretation service and in-house interpreters. However, when an interpreter is not available, providers must find another means of communicating with their patients. With this new system, a health care professional logs onto the network and the system automatically searches for an interpreter.

“This will have a profound impact on our organization,” said registered nurse Bruce Kinder, executive director of Community Regional’s clinical operations and informatics. “For the physicians to have rapid access to an interpreter resource, for nursing and other health care providers to have rapid access to language resources, and for the patient, this is transformational. It’s a pretty powerful thing.”

Community Regional, with 30% of its emergency department patients being non-English-speaking, has need for hundreds of interpreter interactions per day with patients and their families. Seeing someone who speaks their language on the HCIN system monitor will give a sense of comfort, dignity and make for a better overall experience, Kinder said.

Here’s how the HCIN system works. First, a request for an interpreter is made. Then, the system searches for interpreter availability within the hospital. If local resources are unavailable, the system searches other participating hospitals. If the network cannot find an interpreter, the call is routed to a company that provides an audio-only interpreter. Calls can also indicate priority and be sorted by skills requested, such as male or female or specialized training.

The HCIN system allows health care providers to access interpreters speaking 170 languages. These include: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Lao, Mien, Thai, Cambodian, Hmong, Korean, Russian, Farsi, Armenian, Tongan and Hindi. American Sign Language is available on HCIN video stations through a company that provides translations.

This grant from the California HealthCare Foundation will allow Community to try the system for six months. Also, Community will commit one or more full-time Spanish interpreters to provide the bulk of interpretation in Spanish to Community Regional patients, and be responsible for additional costs for establishing and maintaining its connection to the HCIN system. It will take approximately three months to get the system up and running.

Community provides interpreter services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Community is not reimbursed for these services, which last year cost more than $700,000.

Jennifer Avila-Allen reported this story. Eddie Hughes also contributed to this story. They can be reached at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.