Universal translators were once futuristic devices seen only in science fiction movies.
Many physicians would be surprised to learn that some very impressive translation technology already exists in mobile apps.
For the past two years, I have been using the SayHi Translate app to assist with patient communication in the emergency department, clinic, and inpatient unit. The app improves with each update and constantly adds new languages. I have used the SayHi Translate app several times for Spanish and also for Thai, Mandarin, and Czech with great success.
In the medical profession, physicians frequently encounter patients that do not speak English. In orthopedics, many patients seeking medical advice are in pain. They can be somewhat nervous and anxious about visiting the doctor–so imagine how a patient would feel that could not understand what the physician was saying about their fractured arm.
This is not an app you are likely to use every day. I frequently go months without needing the app. However, when the consult comes in that a patient has a fracture-dislocation of the ankle and only speaks Mandarin, I am extremely thankful to have the app at hand. I never could have imagined learning and becoming fluent in the number of languages featured in this app.
The physician should check with their hospital before using a medical app like this for medical information or procedural consents. Many hospitals require an institution approved translator for surgical or procedural consents.
However, talking with a patient emergently or on rounds can quickly and conveniently be accomplished with this app. Although periodically inaccurate, the app conveys the necessary information and facilitates communication well.
The app opens with a split screen interface. On the left is your spoken language setting at the top of the screen, translation readout in the middle, and speech key in the bottom left. On the right, is the patient’s translated spoken language setting, input screen, and speech key. The physician can speak or type information after tapping the left speech key.
A nice feature of this app, compared to similar translator apps, is that it does not start processing information when it hears a break in the speech. The user has to tap the button again to complete the spoken statement for translation. This is nice when thinking of other questions or taking a moment to decide the easiest way to ask for information.
Once a statement is made, the app publishes what it detected in your selected language so you can check the accuracy of the information. Below this statement, it presents the translated text. If an error is detected, the statement can be deleted by clicking on the statement and selecting the trashcan delete function.
When you speak first, the patient can see how you interacted with the app and follow that process on the right side of the screen to communicate. I typically place the app on a table or the side of a stretcher so the patient and I can interact with the app and view the text for accuracy at the same time. This can be a little challenging if the setting is loud or if the patient does not speak loudly–consider the Emergency Department on a Friday night.
The app has common languages (Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Greek, etc.) available with the app purchase price of $1.99. Other more obscure languages (Swahili, Farsi, Hmong, etc) can be purchased through the app. They have over 100 languages available through the app store. The app languages are not designed with medical vocabulary and the app does not have a medical dictionary. The app has difficulty with some complex medical terms. It can be very effective, though, as a tool to communicate basic history and physical exam information.
Some other good features of this app are the ability to switch the translation voice from either male to female or female to male and change the speed of the translated information. Finally, the app has the ability to email the entire conversation for record keeping. The user can then clear the conversation for use in another encounter.
- Great graphics and user interface–the app design is very simple and easy to use
- Broad selection of languages
- Voice recognition is surprisingly accurate and rarely needs repeating or clarification
- The ability to save and email conversations to keep in the medical record
- It would be nice to see the text before it is translated on the screen to correct or repeat the comment before it is translated
- The app has difficulty picking up speech in loud environments or if the user speaks quietly
- The app has difficulty with medical terms and procedures
Healthcare workers that would benefit from the app
- Physicians working with patients that speak another language.
- This application has incredible potential to facilitate and improve patient communication.
- The app has a very reasonable price, is fairly accurate, and has a plethora of languages.
- The app warrants serious consideration for anyone that does not speak other languages but may encounter patients that do not speak their native language.
Type of device used to review app: iPhone 5
Version of App: 3.7.2
Rating: (1 to 5 stars): 4.5/5
- User Interface: 5/5 – The app has a simple split screen that is perfect for the intended translation purpose.
- Multimedia usage: 4/5 – The app does not need many multimedia features but is well designed.
- Price: 5/5 – The price is fair for the amount of content and languages in the app.
- Real world applicability: 4/5 – This is likely a rarely used app, but very helpful when needed.
This post does not establish, nor is it intended to establish, a patient physician relationship with anyone. It does not substitute for professional advice, and does not substitute for an in-person evaluation with your health care provider. It does not provide the definitive statement on the subject addressed. Before using these apps please consult with your own physician or health care provider as to the app’s validity and accuracy as this post is not intended to affirm the validity or accuracy of the apps in question. The app(s) mentioned in this post should not be used without discussing the app first with your health care provider.