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Hospitals use new technology to communicate with patients

Each year millions of non-English speaking people visit emergency rooms across the US seeking medical care. Interpreters are often needed to bridge doctor-patient language gap, but it's not always that easy. Interpreters are expensive and often hard to find. But a new instant interpreter service holds hope for significantly improving the process.

For some, a trip to the emergency room means the likelihood of another long wait. But for those who don't speak English, the experience can be terrifying and confusing. Consider Sandra Orantes who enters the ER at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus seeking a doctor. But Orantes doesn't speak English.

Many hospitals try to call in an interpreter. But that can be a lengthy and very expensive process. Today Orantes is motioned to sit in the waiting room while someone gets a Martti, which stands for My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter. It uses a flat screen monitor with a web-cam attached to the top of it. The apparatus sits atop a tall stand on wheels, and with the press of a button a Spanish speaking interpreter pops up on the screen.

In the past, Oratnes has waited as long as five hours for an interpreter to arrive. But today, she was able to relay her symptoms to a doctor within minutes.

Milga Liban is a Somali interpreter for The Language Access Network, the Columbus-based company that makes the Marttis. Interpreters are available 24 seven. Liben lists some of the languages available today during her shift.

"We have American Sign Language, Russian, Spanish, Somali, Cantonese, Mandarin, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and we also have a connection to another 150 different languages," Liban said.

OSU Doctor David Bahner likes this new service, and said Martti is much more efficient than having an interpreter.

"It's been very successful. Not only it be more efficient, but also have the wide variety of languages represented," Bahner said.

Andrew Panos is president of The Language Access Network which developed the Martti system. He said not only does the on-demand system enable medical staff to take better care of its patients, but also cuts down on unnecessary testing.

"You have someone that comes in and the night before they had three Domino's pizzas and a 12-pack of beer, and they've got a horrible stomach ache. And the doctor doesn't know really what's going on so he orders an extensive amount of testing to find out the guy needs a couple of Rolaids," Panos said.

The company said there are other systems similar to theirs, but none with a network that spans the country. OSU officials said they like the new service and encourage other hospitals to see if it would also help them treat their patients who don't speak English.