App To Bridge Language Barriers Between Doctors and Patients

Imagine traveling or moving to a foreign country and a doctor has just told you that you need an operation.  What if you couldn’t understand a word that doctor was telling you.  For some who seek medical treatment internationally, that scenario is a reality.  Language barriers can not only lead to more stress and anxiety but also lead to complications in establishing treatment plans as the majority of diagnoses come from the patient’s self-reported medical history.  Obviously, the ability to communicate in a medical emergency is critical.

Brad Cohn and Alex Blau, 2 medical doctors from California, ran into this scenario often at the San Francisco hospital they work at.  After many conversations about how to effectively communicate with foreign language speaking patients, they invented a medical application that uses touch screen software which allows health care providers to ask medical history questions and provide instructions out loud to patients.

In April, 2011, the free mobile translation app, MediBabble, was offered to the public on iTunes.  More than 8,000 downloads have occurred and the software is receiving positive feedback by users.  It can be downloaded  onto an iPhone or PDA  and so far, the application is available in five languages:  Russian, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Haitian Creole.

MediBabble is intended for use by medical doctors, so for the expat moving to a foreign country, downloading this application before the move and then sharing it with your medical doctor or local hospital may make your first visit a lot more effective.

MediBabble uses touch screen software that plays medical history questions like “Can you tell me your name?” and “Are you allergic to any medications?”  and uses a symptom based approach already commonly used by medical practitioners worldwide.  The app starts by asking symptom description and then leads into medical history questions by using questions to elicit yes/no answers or gestures.  Pointing to calendars and body parts, along with the translator, helps tremendously.

There are more than 2,500 exam questions and once downloaded, MediBabble does not require an internet connection so it’s usable in even the most remote hospital setting.

Watch for other medical translation devices and share them us!