Translation technology not a substitute for professional interpreter

Translational technology is not a substitute for professional interpreters, according to research findings by NARI. Nevertheless, further research is required to evaluate its use for everyday conversations in real clinical settings.
Dr Frances Batchelor, NARI Director of Clinical Gerontology, said that the findings show that language translational technology can provide a role because it is not logistically or financially possible to access a professional interpreter all the time for every patient in circumstances where communication relates to everyday activities.
“Over 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes. People without proficient English from non-English speaking countries may not receive equitable care if their health care workers do not speak their primary language, Dr Batchelor said.
“Use of professional interpreters is considered the gold standard; however, for many, it is often limited to key aspects of care such as diagnosis and consent.”
NARI researchers evaluated iPad-compatible language apps to see whether they were suitable for use in everyday conversations in health care settings.
“We know that with the emergence of mobile technologies, health care workers are increasingly using digital translation tools to fill this gap, but what we don’t know is how useful or suitable they are,” Dr Batchelor said.
Researchers sought suitable apps available freely through the Apple iTunes Store and in published and grey literature. The apps had to translate at least one of the top 10 languages spoken in Australia, and be available for use on iPad.
In total, 15 apps were evaluated. Of these, 8 apps contained voice-to-voice and voice-to-text translation options. In addition, 6 apps were restricted to using preset health phrases, whereas one app used a combination of free input and preset phrases.
Of these, two apps were rated as suitable for everyday communication in the health
care setting—CALD Assist (developed at Western Health) and Talk To Me (developed at St Vincent’s Health).
“Both apps contained simple and appropriate preset health phrases and did not contain conversations that fall within the realm of professional interpreters,” Dr Batchelor said.
“Ultimately we caution people using translation technology currently other than for everyday conversations. Nothing at this stage should replace professional interpreters.”