First hospital in Canada introduces portable video translation service for patients

Communicating with hospital staff, physicians, volunteers and students isn’t always easy if English is not your first language. At Southlake Regional Health Centre, it means some patients have to rely on others to communicate on their behalf. They can bring English-speaking family members or interpreters with them to appointments.

But this can be a challenge if the visit to the hospital is an unexpected one. Southlake does have access to staff, physicians, students and volunteers who are fluent in a variety of languages but they are not always available to assist with translation at a moment’s notice.

The ability for patients and health care professionals to communicate and understand each other is key to a memorable patient experience and receiving the right treatment. As the number of patients whose first language isn’t English grows, Southlake has responded by introducing VICKI™, a real-time video interpreting service from Able Translations Ltd., to better serve these patients.

VICKI™ connects patients, via a video link, with a qualified health care interpreter at Able Translation’s call centre.

“The amazing thing about VICKI™ is that it’s a fast, face-to-face communication tool with trained health care language interpreters to make the patient experience that much easier,” says Mary Ryan, Manager of Diversity and Inclusivity at Southlake.

In early 2011, Southlake piloted the use of VICKI™ in the Cataract Centre and the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre, two key areas in the hospital that regularly serve patients whose first language is not English.

During the pilot, staff saw tremendous success using the service, which led Southlake to become the first hospital in Canada to purchase the portable units. Southlake is now equipped with five VICKI™ machines. The purchase of VICKI™ supports the hospital’s vision to deliver shockingly excellent service.

The machines are located in the hospital’s Emergency Department, Call Centre, Stronach Regional Cancer Centre, Welcome Centre and the Medical Arts Building. Because the VICKI™ machines are portable and mobile, they can be used by any department as needed.

“VICKI™ instantaneously relieves patients’ anxiety and fear, ultimately allowing them to speak comfortably,” says Roseanne Pegler, Executive Lead, Stronach Regional Cancer Centre, who works with Cancer Care Ontario and the Regional Cancer Program to implement cancer-related projects at Southlake. “When patients realize that they are being connected with a live person who speaks their language, their faces literally light up.”

VICKI™  is a two-way video service, meaning the patient can see the interpreter and the interpreter can see the patient, which also makes it possible to provide American Sign Language interpretation to patients who are deaf, oral deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.  Annette Jones, Vice-President  and Chief Nursing Officer, shares a personal perspective that “having parents who are both profoundly deaf and knowing the challenges faced when trying to communicate their needs particularly in emergency situations, I am thrilled to see the roll out of VICKI™ at Southlake as a method of ensuring effective communication with our patients and families.”

Service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and supports many different languages at the press of a button, including Italian, Portugese, Russian, Cantonese and Spanish, the top five language requests at Southlake at this time.

The team at Southlake is committed to making its patients’ health care experiences the best they can be; VICKI™ gives the team one more innovative tool to use in honouring that commitment.