Among the many challenges a hospital nurse, physician or specialist has to confront is treating a patient who speaks a different language.

According to those who work at Pullman Regional Hospital, that language barrier puts staff at risk of offering inadequate medical advice to a patient.

“Sometimes there’s some critical information that we may miss or get wrong,” said Dr. Pete Mikkelsen, who works in the PRH emergency department.

This year, both Pullman Regional Hospital and Moscow’s Gritman Medical Center have bought a computer program they hope will make translations more accurate and efficient.

It is called Martti, and it is a program downloaded onto a tablet that can connect patients and staff with an interpreter in real time.

After the nurse or staff member selects a language, Martti contacts an interpreter at call centers around the U.S. The patient and nurse can then speak to the interpreter face to face on the tablet screen.

Both Gritman and PRH used to rely on a dial-in phone service, which PRH social worker Sarah Rial described as a “clunky” way of doing things.

Rial and Mikkelsen said Martti is better because the translator and patient can see each other’s faces and pick up on important facial cues and body language that can provide important information a phone call cannot.

“The most important aspect of this is the safety aspect,” Mikkelsen said.

Rial said the feedback from the patients who have used Martti has been positive. She said Martti makes the interactions more personable to the patient.

“They’ve been very grateful to be able to participate and know what they’re saying is being heard,” Rial said.

Gritman Emergency Department Director Nicole Wheaton said the old phone service could not help patients who could only speak through sign language. Martti, on the other hand, offers American Sign Language translations.

“It’s just been a great tool,” Wheaton said.

Hannah Kimball, PRH corporate compliance and safety coordinator, said the hospital has two Martti devices and is looking into purchasing a third. She said the emergency room and the birth center use Martti the most. Wheaton said Gritman also has two devices.

Kimball said if staff cannot figure out what language the patient speaks, the patient can select a language from a map on Martti’s interface.

Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese and Russian are among the common languages PRH and Gritman staff have encountered. Kimball said soon PRH will be able to use Martti to track what languages the hospital uses Martti for the most.


Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email at akuipers@dnews.com.

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