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    Dr. Patrick Flaherty recalled an Hispanic patient who came into the emergency room after a high-speed motor vehicle accident.

    The man looked injured and based on his actions appeared to be in terrible pain but Flaherty and his team could not understand him and he couldn’t understand them.

    So they called on Martti, a robot that speaks and understands 250 languages.

    Within minutes, the patient’s screaming Spanish was interpreted.

    “I’m fine,” the patient said. “Nothing hurts.”

    Martti stands for  and is one example of the technology that’s connecting health care providers to interpreters who can communicate with Limited English Proficiency patients at the touch of a button.

    “It’s like night and day,” said Flaherty, who at one time had to rely on family members to interpret what was being said.

    “It has not only made our job easier but I think patients feel better having it around because their concerns are being addressed better, and in an unbiased way,” said Flaherty, a Royal Oak resident and emergency room physician at McLaren Macomb Hospital in Mount Clemens.

    Having a third person interpreting via a video screen also helps a hospital remain HIPAA compliant. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, sets the standard for protecting people’s sensitive health information.

    “Now we can discuss details about a person’s case with Martti in private,” Flaherty said.

    FOREIGN-BORN RESIDENTS

    Most of the cities and townships in Michigan at one time were dominated by three ethnic groups –- Germans, Italians and Poles.

    Now there are communities that are home to families who have emigrated from Mexico, Iraq, Albania, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Syria, Congo, India, Sudan, Romania, Laos Thailand and Eritrea, to name a few.

    The most common birthplace for immigrants to Michigan, as of 2015, was Mexico, with 75,412 immigrants, followed by India with 58,549 and Iraq with 50,409, according to Data USA’s report based on numbers gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau.

    When compared to other states, Michigan also had a relatively high number of residents who were born in Yemen, an Arab country in Western Asia at the southeastern end of the Arabian Peninsula.

    In 2015, there were 14,882 people from Yemen living in Michigan, about 9.43 times more than would be expected by demographers.

    As a result, the top three non-English languages spoken are now Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

    HOSPITAL VISITS

    When non-English speaking people get hurt or sick, it is not only the emergency rooms that have the need for interpreters.

    “I had a couple come in who had a doctor’s appointment and they were very thankful we had Martti,” said Kelley Lovati, community relations director at McLaren Macomb. “The husband spoke a little English but the wife spoke no English so she was very nervous about her tests.”

    Thanks to Martti, all of her questions were answered.

    “I’ve been in my role for 10 years, but the demand for languages is absolutely growing,” said Mary Voutt-Goos, director of quality and safety initiatives at Henry Ford Health System. “My team is responsible for language services, which includes telephone and in-person interpreters, as well as document translation.”

    That gives patients access to more than 240 languages at Henry Ford locations across Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

    “We also have a number of key documents translated in our top languages (English, Arabic, Bengali and Spanish) including a health care visit tool, advance directives, consent forms and patient instruction sheets,” Voutt-Goos said.

    At St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Spanish is the main language where interpretive services are needed.

    The hospital doesn’t have Martti, but does use telephones and interpreters.

    “For spoken languages, we use dual handset phones and interpreters,” said St. Joseph spokesman Bobby Maldonado. “A nurse calls a phone number and gets an interpreter over the phone. We can get an in-person interpreter, as well. Dual handset phones are available on every unit.”

    St. Joseph also uses WOW, which stands for Workstation On Wheels, for video remote interpreting for deaf patients.

    MULTIFACETED

    As with most hospitals, interpreter services are free and can also be used for a seminar or class that the hospital is offering.

    Jacqueline Segunda-Ortega’s interpreter, Rebecca Koslowski, was at her side during her last ultrasound.

    “This is her first baby,” Koslowski said, interpreting the Spanish spoken by Segunda-Ortega. “She feels better. She feels that her baby is in better hands and that she is because of an interpreter. It makes her feel safe and happy having someone who can speak for her.”

    Moe Rustom speaks Arabic. A registered nurse, he was the perfect candidate when Oakwood Healthcare went looking for someone to start a program for multicultural health and clinical language services in 2005.

    “I was really passionate about it,” said Rustom, who has been a nurse for more than 16 years and has seen a lot of patients who could not understand a word the doctors were telling them. “This is a patient safety issue and I felt it really needed to be dealt with.”

    Oakwood has since become part of Beaumont Health and its interpreter services program has grown to include Martti, a telephone interpreter service, and a staff of specialists who have been trained to be qualified medical interpreters.

    “We have a bilingual staff from at least 60 different countries. So, we really tap into that reserve of human capital,” Rustom said.

    Be it a heart surgeon who speaks Spanish or an ultrasound tech who speaks Mandarin, it’s another way to bridge the communication gap, which varies depending on the community it serves, Rustom added.

    “In Dearborn, the number one language is Arabic and then Spanish, followed by Vietnamese, Romanian and Albanian,” Rustom said. “But at our hospital in Trenton, the number one language is Vietnamese and then Spanish, Greek, Romanian and Arabic.

    “Respect and dignity are the first pillars of care. How can you do this with them –- if they don’t understand what you’re trying to say or the treatment that you are trying to give?”

     

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