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Interpreters Join Video Calls to Help Patients with COVID-19 Talk to Their Doctors

Rush University Medical Center provides remote interpreter services in 65 languages

Being in the hospital can be scary and stressful, especially if you and your care team don’t speak the same language. To make sure that patients understand their providers, Rush University Medical Center staffed interpreters for 63 languages in addition to their typical Spanish and Polish interpreter staff from March through June. Using video visits, interpreters joined in to more than 12,300 conversations without needing to enter the patient’s room.

“This is a very multilingual city, and we needed to provide our services differently to meet the needs of our patients during COVID-19,” said Carlos Olvera, manager of interpreter services.

To reduce the spread of infection, health systems have implemented precautions to reduce in-person contact with patients who have COVID-19. For translators, who need to clearly hear both the patient and the provider, this presents unique challenges.

Before they began using video visits on iPads equipped with Epic’s Canto app, translators needed to communicate over speakerphones, which were placed in plastic bags to reduce the spread of the virus. Video provides a clearer picture of the patient and a more personal connection, even when patients are in isolation. Patients already have tablets in their rooms for video visits with providers, so no additional equipment is needed.

“Our doors are open to anybody,” said Olvera. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, we’re here to make you better, and language is not going to be a barrier. We’ll find a way to communicate and do it humanely and professionally.”

Read more from Rush University Medical Center and WGN. For more information on setting up video visits during the pandemic, Epic community members can refer to the Managing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) With Epic documentation on the UserWeb.