Health Team

iPods break down language barrier at UNC Hospitals

Posted November 13, 2009

— iPods are helping UNC Hospitals reduce the time it takes to call an interpreter for patients who don't speak English.

Juan Reyes-Alonso supervises a staff of 25 interpreters at UNC Hospitals who iron out communication difficulties for patients, many of whom speak only Spanish.

"It is extremely frustrating that when there is a language barrier you don't know what you need to be doing. You don't even know what they're telling you to do," Reyes-Alonso said.

iPods are helping UNC Hospitals reduce the time it takes to call iPods help hospital interpreters

A language barrier arose when Efren and Rosa Martinez took their infant daughter Francesca for a recommended newborn exam. Instead, hospital staff thought the child was sick.

"When they came in, there was a miscommunication at the reception desk," Reyes-Alonso said. Once summoned to help the Martinez family, he got lab work completed to check Francesca for jaundice and scheduled a regular exam.

Such confusion can delay possibly critical medical care when interpreters can't get there quickly.

In the past, UNC interpreters used pagers, then digital phones to receive requests. Those devices, though, had limitations within the hospital that often meant delays of 20 minutes or longer.

Then, the hospital became among the first in the country to try a special messaging system using an iPod Touch.

"The iPod Touch was the device we were looking for," Reyes-Alonso said.

The handheld device lists requests and tracks responses from several interpreters. It also comes with dictionaries to help interpreters with unfamiliar medical terms.

Using the device has made deep cuts to response time, Reyes-Alonso said.

"It's less than 5 minutes, because we had the request in our iPods in a matter of seconds," he said.


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  • JAFOinWF Nov 17, 2009

    If they can't communicate in English then how the devil did they get to the hospital? If they drove, how can you get a drivers license if you can't read and communicate in English?!

  • Raleigh Boys Nov 17, 2009

    Debbie Yang is up to her old tricks again.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Nov 17, 2009

    In our "free" country, are you folks suggesting that people not be allowed to speak the language that they want?

    Next, you'll tell me that you want "less government" interference in people's lives. ;-)

  • gopack54 Nov 16, 2009

    Heaven forbid we inconvenience someone who is more than likely not a legal citizen of the US by asking them to learn OUR language.

  • AaronShadowzz Nov 13, 2009

    Well if they all knew some English, we wouldn't have this problem.