Free iPhone medical translation app sets a new standard, MediBabble Translator app

Large numbers of non-English-speaking patients receive care on a daily basis in the United States, and the accompanying barriers to communication often negatively impact the level of care these patients receive. Live translators or translating services are available at most health care facilities, but even when accessible, can be expensive, challenging to use, and often delay care.

Moreover, the tools for medical interpretation available for the iPhone/iPad are, at this time, somewhat limited. Last April we reviewed Xprompt by Blue Owl Software , which we looked upon favorably, but for which pricing was an issue, especially for additional languages. There was also Medical Spanish, an app with a great UI, but only available for Spanish.

Here, we may have a more powerful alternative for medical interpretation in the form of MediBabble, which was just recently released in February 2011, and surprisingly, is free. A further explanation of why such a powerful medical translation app is free is worth noting.

MediBabble was developed over the course of approximately 3 years by two physicians, Alex Blau and Brad Cohn, who were originally fourth-year medical students at the UCSF School of Medicine when they first conceived of this project. Drs. Blau and Cohn are dedicated to “allow our English-speaking colleagues, both domestically and abroad, to improve the timeliness, efficacy, and safety of the care they provide across a language divide.”

Their strong record of service: Work with the San Franciso homeless population ; In emergency settings in Ecuador : In NYC during the 9/11 crisis for Dr. Blau ; Experiences in India with the Himalayan Health Exchange ; In Thailand and Cambodia with UNESCO ; and in South Africa with Child-Family Health International for Dr. Cohn—speaks to their commitment to helping the medically underserved and enhancing global health. In fact, the developers of MediBabble have made the app and all of its languages free in order to best achieve these goals, a noble gesture on their part.

At this time, MediBabble has 5 initial languages—Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, and Haitian Creole—available as a free download within the app. Of note, regarding patient safety, its developers affirm that all of MediBabble’s phrases were written and reviewed by a panel of physicians, translated from English by professional medical translators, and vetted and recorded by hospital-based medical interpreters.

As for the app itself, the home screen features a search bar, “Patient Questions,” and a language selection button for quickly changing languages or downloading additional languages. The developers are currently working on modules for French, Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, and German.

An impressive feature of MediBabble is the presence of a 12-screen Guided Tour that quickly and effectively orients new users to the app. We’ll use this feature to help guide us through the abilities and features of MediBabble.

From the home screen, the search bar at the top facilitates a keyword search that taps into the app’s full library of over 2,000 queries and directives.

Alternatively, the “Patient Questions” options from the main screen allow for browsing for phrases by category. For instance, the “Openings and Closings” category includes greetings, goodbyes, and explanations.

The remainder of the “Patient Questions” sections represents components of a full history—Chief Complaint, HPI, PMH, Meds & Allergies, Family & Social History, ROS—as well as the Physical Exam. For example, clicking on HPI allows access to different complaints by system (here, cardiovascular), and clicking on a specific complaint (here, chest pain) brings up an admirably complete playlist of appropriate HPI questions for that complaint (timing, duration, quality, location, radiation, severity, onset, associated symptoms, alleviating and exacerbating factors, etc.) It would make any medical school instructor proud.

Tapping anywhere on a question plays the question out loud, while tapping again stops playback.

Moreover, turning the screen on its side (to landscape mode) displays a large-text version of the translated text, a useful feature to allow hard-of-hearing patients to read the desired question. Also, headphones can be used to play the questions at a louder volume for hard-of-hearing patients.

The Family and Social History section deserves special mention for including topics such as health-related behaviors, domestic violence screening, and assessing ADL’s and iADL’s.

The Physical Exam section includes phrases directed at preparing, positioning, and instructing patients while undertaking a Physical Exam. Here, we can see how MediBabble can facilitate a proper pulmonary examination, including assessing the patient for egophony.

Finally, the “Recently Played” section of “Patient Questions” displays the 50 most recently-played phrases, and allows for playing questions directly from this screen.

In summary, the MediBabble app is a superb addition to the mobile medical translating world. It offers a clean but medically rigorous way for English-speaking health care workers to effectively serve patients with whom communication could otherwise be rather challenging.

Pricing

Downloading the MediBabble app is free, and its 5 initial languages—Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, and Haitian Creole— are available for download for free within the app. MediBabble’s developers intend to keep it free, and only encourage donations through PayPal (link available inside the app) to help them continue their work.

Likes

- Kudos to the developers of MediBabble for offering this outstanding app for free to best overcome the language barriers so often present in health care
- The Guided Tour function is a terrific way to help users quickly master the app
- Almost every question in MediBabble can be answered with a yes/no or gestural response (such as holding up fingers or pointing to a body part)
- The ~2,000 phrases are thorough and comprehensive for a medical interaction, and well-organized as well as searchable by keyword

Dislikes/Future Updates I’d Love to See

- The ability for a user to modify or build customized clusters of phrases based on their common interactions (though this update is in the works, per the developers, and could be ready later this year)
- We eagerly await the development of even more languages for MediBabble
- MediBabble is best used by English-speaking health care professionals to communicate with non-English-speaking patients, and cannot be used effectively for other languages; in time, one hopes a similar app will be available for other languages

Conclusion

MediBabble is an impressively powerful and comprehensive (and free!) mobile medical interpretation tool with great utility for clinical settings—a true must-have for any individual involved with health care delivery!

iTunes link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/medibabble-translator/id355398880?mt=8

Author:

Amit Patel, MD

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14 Responses to Free iPhone medical translation app sets a new standard, MediBabble Translator app

  1. Ningxin March 15, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    This App is very innovative and I think it will help a lot – the only problem is it crashes immediately after opening. and after the upgrade. x-(

    • Alex Blau, MD April 7, 2011 at 6:10 am #

      Hi Ningxin,

      Wanted to let you know that we’ve fixed this problem, which seemed to be preferentially affecting downloaders outside of the United States. If for some reason you’re still having trouble with MediBabble send me an email and I’ll try to help you get it working.

      Alex

      • Alex September 26, 2011 at 3:55 am #

        This App is wonderful, but I can’t seem to get the other languages to download =( help please?

      • Anissa Hamel August 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

        Hello, I am wondering if medibabble have an android version because I can’t find it.
        I also have an ipod, but medibabble doesn’t work. Only black screen.

        I am a third year med student at UOttawa.
        Thanks

        • Iltifat Husain, MD August 17, 2014 at 2:13 am #

          hey good question — they don’t have it available for the Android platform. Do you have your iPod Touch updated to the latest operating system? The main reason it isn’t working is probably secondary to the operating system you’re using.

  2. drrjv March 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Very helpful App – look forward to trying with patients. No glitches on my iPhone 4 (latest firmware). Works well and nicely complements Google Translate (which allows one to speak into the App and translate with audio output in the respective language!)

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app

  3. Friedel Ferdinand Friedrich January 31, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    Inventions like these are useful and sure to improve in future, but at the moment there is still no replacement for human translators. Even where people speak the same language there can be misunderstandings because phrases can have different connotations. There was an example of a British pilot who announced to passengers “I’m afraid to tell you, we have a slight problem,” when in fact the engine was on fire (!). Translation apps aren’t able to recognise or convey culturally sensitive aspects, such as understatement or sarcasm. Therefore, it is always good to employ professional translation services , i.e. it is good to have a human translator at hand who is familiar with the cultural aspects of the respective languages. Accuracy is very important, particularly in the field of medical-translation.

  4. kate November 21, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    I have been compiling this myself on flashcards that I have to carry around with me. I have aan android you see. So I can’t use your wonderful app or donate. Us this in the works?

  5. Ellen Davis March 1, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    How does this fly w/ compliance with Title VI of CRA for meeting the needs for language assistance for LEP persons? Does this app pass muster with the DOJ ?

  6. sarah January 8, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    This is great for use in the appointment, but what about navigating to check in? Sometimes patients have questions along the way. And if a patient is asked to go to another department or to the lab after the appointment they don’t have the aid of interpreter services.

    Has anyone heard of a “mobile” interpretation app or device — a way you can pull up a live interpreter and keep him/her with you from check in to the time you leave?

  7. Alan HArcourt February 18, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Does this app meet Joint Commission standards for translating certificaiton requirements?

    • Iltifat Husain, MD February 18, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

      I doubt it. I would reach out to the developers to ask.

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