URBANA — What if you've got a medical emergency, but nobody at the hospital speaks your language?
Finding the right in-person translator can take valuable time, but now two area hospitals have added a new video technology that makes face-to-face interpreters available via smartphone or tablet.
Presence Covenant Medical Center and Presence United Samaritans already had phone interpreters available in 180 languages, and now they've added the video component, joining the Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Physician Group, which also offers this service.
Adding video doesn't just add more of a personal dimension.
It also broadens the capabilities of phone interpreters to interpret in sign language for the deaf and hard of hearing, said United Samaritans spokeswoman Gretchen Yordy.
Alejandra Coronel, language services supervisor at Covenant, said a patient coming to the hospital already has fears about his or her medical condition. Not being able to communicate about it only makes it all worse.
Covenant has signs up indicating assistance is available, she said, and the staff is instructed about what to do if someone has a language barrier.
Even if family members are along who could interpret for the patient, Coronel said, hospitals are encouraged to use trained medical interpreters because a family member might summarize things incorrectly or be unfamiliar with medical terminology.
"If you are there with a family member, you might be biased in the information you're going to provide to your loved one," she said. "Or it can be complicated because it might be an abuser who is bringing the loved one. We don't know if the patient is being served in the way they are supposed to be served."
Plus, Coronel said, some family members have been known to feel guilty later if the patient later dies, thinking possibly there was a miscommunication that led to a wrong treatment.
A professional interpreter can do the job with more detachment, leaving the family member to be the patient's advocate, she said.
The Presence Hospitals are using a service called LanguageU through LanguageLine Solutions, spokesman at both hospitals said.
Covenant also has face-to-face interpreters for American Sign Language, Spanish and French.
Carle also provides face-to-face interpreters in American Sign Language, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Korean, Carle spokeswoman Kelli Anderson said.
But the phone hours add up. Carle provides more than 275 hours of phone interpreter services a month, she said.