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Health, Science & Tech

Forbes Hospital Using New Software to Bridge Language Barriers

The cost of hiring an interpreter or sign language specialist to communicate with hospital patients can reach up to $70 per hour, but suburban Pittsburgh hospital might have found a cheaper and more effective alternative.

Forbes Hospital in Monroeville recently starting utilizing iPad-based software called “Language You See,” which provides interpretational and sign language services at the touch of a button.

Through the software, patients can access interpreters in 200 different languages, including sign language, 24 hours a day. The technology has already been utilized in Forbes’ stress lab, emergency and radiology departments.

“In the instant that you touch the language or American Sign Language, the person is right there ready to interpret, either sitting with their headphones on or already signing ‘hello,’” said Wendy Fleming, accredited case manager for the Allegheny Health Network (AHN).

Federal law requires all hospitals to provide free professional language services to patients with hearing impairment or limited English proficiency.

In the past, officials at Forbes would have to hire an interpreter to come to the hospital. According to Fleming, most interpreters charge by the hour with a minimum of two hours, plus travel expenses.

“We would be paying for two hours of an interpreter’s time for what literally is sometimes a three-minute conversation,” Fleming said.

Forbes is currently using a single iPad for the service, which raised concerns among hospital patients who were afraid it would spread infectious diseases.

Fleming said there is nothing to worry about now.

“The iPad is now locked securely onto this telescoping pole which could literally be outside of someone’s room and reach into the room and go flat,” Fleming said. “You can be lying flat in the bed and the screen can come right over flat on top of you so you can still sign or still see the person interpreting you.”

The Allegheny Health Network is looking to expand use of the software into other hospitals in its system. Fleming budgeted for two more at Forbes.