Wireless video solution helps hospital patients communicate with doctors

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Bradford Royal Infirmary and St. Luke’s Hospital are teaching hospitals in the United Kingdom that serve the healthcare needs of 500,000 citizens, of which 22% are from black or minority ethnic (BME) origins. Many of them do not speak or understand English, a situation that often resulted in patient communication problems at the hospitals.

With over 900 beds and 5,200 staff collectively, these two busy hospitals deal with over 120,000 accident and emergency (A&E) attendances a year, nearly 50% of whom are estimated to be from the BME communities.

Effective communication between doctors, nurses and patients is vital, but interpretation services were inconsistent. For face-to-face consultations, clinicians used in-house interpreters or hired interpreters from their professional register who specialized in a core set of languages. However, these interpreters were not always available at short notice, so clinicians were often forced to communicate via patients’ relatives and friends. The alternative was to use a telephone interpreting agency, but this approach was expensive and unpopular with medical staff because it lacked the visual interaction needed in a patient consultation.

In addition to inconsistency and expense, these methods of interpretation had other disadvantages. Using nonprofessionals increased the risk of misinterpretation, which could create potential risks when delivering medical care. Similarly, using a male interpreter could be embarrassing for women, particularly if their condition was of a sensitive nature.

That’s when they came up with the idea of video interpreting. They already used wired and wireless networks from Council member Cisco, so they consulted experts from the Cisco Healthcare Team to help design a wireless-based video solution. A proof of-concept was subsequently arranged to thoroughly test the Cisco solution and gather feedback from both clinicians and patients.

The result is a fleet of trolley-based interpreting endpoints, which are powered by battery packs, allowing easy transportation to any hospital location. The trolley offers a simple keyboard and screen with video communication. Using a mouse, clinicians select the language they require and the preferred gender of the interpreter. The system uses one of the hospital’s 350 Cisco wireless access points to connect to a dedicated team of interpreters who constitute, in effect, a small contact center. To help ensure quality of services, video interpreting services are segregated from other traffic on the wireless network.

The primary focus is to make hospital services more accessible to non-English speakers, but a hospital official estimates the solution will reduce interpretation costs by 30%. 

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