My practice in family medicine can be extremely diverse when it comes to patient complaints. One room has a pregnant patient, the next one has a geriatric man with heart failure, and next to that is a 12 month well baby exam. That is the beauty of family medicine. I also practice in the military. Our Soldiers travel all over the world and sometimes meet their life partner along the way–some of them don’t speak English as a first language, or at all. In those circumstances, I have used our hospital’s translation service.

When that isn’t available, what can you do? Some providers try to find a family member or another medical staff member who speaks the patient’s language. I have also faced situations while deployed overseas in Afghanistan or on temporary duty in Japan, Korea, China and Mongolia when a translator was not available. The entire medical encounter can be turned on its head when patient and provider cannot communicate even the most basic medical information.

Leave it to Google to come to the rescue with Google Translate. Here at iMedicalApps we took a look at Google Translate over 5 years ago and found it very promising but hindered by less than ideal translation abilities and an interface in need of a facelift. In the intervening years, Google has significantly improved the translation engine that powers their voice recognition software and added a few more languages along the way. Google also dramatically increased the number of languages included in the app with now over 90 different ones. The biggest change to the app itself occurred in January when the app was updated with a conversation mode that allows a literal back and forth to occur between two speakers of different languages. In the past, you just had to push a button and take your turn. The app also now has the ability to translate text that you take a picture of and shows the translation on the screen. Finally, in addition to typing on the screen (which the app translates perfectly), you can write on the screen with your finger in a window and the app will translate that as well. So how well does it all work?

Clinical Scenario:

You are seeing your new continuity obstetric patient today. The patient is from Puerto Rico and speaks only Spanish. Her husband is at work and couldn’t get off for the appointment. Your nurse informs you that the translation service line is down as well. You decide to try to conduct as much of the appointment as possible using Google Translate.

Login to iMedicalApps in order to view the following video showing how Google Translate does for medical translation. Registration for iMedicalApps is free.

Evidence based medicine

Not really applicable for this app. I did test the app to see if it could translate a variety of medical terms from English to Spanish and it successfully did so over 90% of the time. Some medical terms it simply doesn’t know or don’t exist in some languages.

What providers would benefit from this App?

Students, residents, mid-levels, nurses, staff physicians, any provider who may have to interact with a patient who does not speak the native language you want to translate (the app has the ability to translate between over 90 languages).

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

    • Fast accurate translations in over 90 different languages.
    • Conversation mode to simulate a real medical encounter.
    • Translates text from typewritten text, handwriting samples and photos of text.
  • Dislikes
    • User interface seems a bit crowded.
    • Not 100% accurate which for some medical professionals is a non-starter.
    • Conversation mode occasionally gets confused between speakers or stops listening.
    • Some medical terminology not apparently available in the app.
  • Overall

    A unique non-medical app with great medical application possibilities. This app has virtually endless possible medical uses in clinics, busy ERs, and especially when on medical missions and deployments. If you don’t have a translator or translation line available, Google Translate could help you get the job done. However, it’s definitely not 100% accurate, and should be used with caution. 

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface

    Screen space is at a premium and use of the app is not perfectly intuitive, though the app contains helpful tutorials.

  • Multimedia Usage

    Amazing ability to translate live conversations, text, handwriting, pictures of text and share them via email, text message, other apps.

  • Price

    App is free!

  • Real World Applicability

    Simple and beautiful when it works — but not 100% accurate.

  • Device Used For Review

    iPhone 6 running iOS 8.4

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