SEBRING — An elderly Cuban woman conversed Wednesday afternoon with nurses and staff at her bed at Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center, but she doesn’t know any English.
“Erick,” an interpreter speaking live to her through an iPad provided by STRATUS — an interpreter service — facilitated the conversation in real time from Costa Rica, through an internet feed.
The hospital division has five such devices — three in Sebring, one in Lake Placid and another in Wauchula — to help non-English speaking patients understand fully aspects of their care and treatment from doctors and nurses.
“Como dia y noche” — Like day and night — said the lady when asked how the device improved her hospital stay over previous visits. “It has helped me a lot because I don’t know any English,” she added through her interpreter.
The patient asked not to be named or photographed while in the hospital, for her privacy. Other than that, she said she was very thankful for the technology.
Lissa Dela Cruz, a registered nurse and the hospital’s clinical education manager, said the device connects hospital patients and staff to interpreters of 19 languages, including Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Tagalog (from the Philippine Islands), as well as the more commonly used American Sign Language (ASL), Spanish and Haitian Creole.
Of those, ASL and Spanish are the most used, with interpreters available every day, 24 hours per day. All the interpreters are certified and are fluent in medical terminology for their languages, she said.
One time, she said, they used Arabic to better explain a heart stent procedure.
Each iPad communicator is nestled in a bracket on a rolling cart, with an articulated arm, to get the screen closer to a bedridden patient’s face. Dela Cruz said the hospital started using the service three months ago, in part, because finding interpreters on short notice was difficult. It sometimes took hours.
“It was hard to get someone good in ASL. We’d have to call someone,” Dela Cruz said. “With this, we have immediate medical translation.”
The previous service involved a phone number with two headsets — one for the patient and one for the medical professional. The new system lets the interpreters read facial cues and gestures directly from patients, to better convey the patient’s questions.
Besides, Dela Cruz said, the hospital can’t just grab a bilingual staff member to help. Aside from risking a Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act violation, the staff member might not know certain medical terms.
Jessica Berelsman, a registered nurse caring for the Cuban lady, said the face-to-face format gives her and other nurses better access to patients.
“It makes (patients) more comfortable because they are talking with a person,” Berelsman said, “and it’s right at our fingertips.”
Doctors use it the most, Berelsman said, to explain procedures before surgery. Dela Cruz said it also lets patients disclose food allergies or medicine sensitivity.
“It reduces (stress) a ton because I know what their saying,” Berelsman said. “It’s not just a smile and nod.”
Dela Cruz said the devices are free. STRATUS only charges per minute for each session. However, the more they’re used, the more points the hospital gets toward more devices. Dela Cruz hopes to get more devices very soon, especially for the winter visitor season. There’s not a lot of training time available during the season, but knowing how to use the devices will help make non-English speaking patients more comfortable.
That’s the whole point of a hospital visit, Dela Cruz said.