- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

Area hospitals have few options when confronted with a patient who cannot speak English: find an interpreter, or get on the telephone.

Within seconds, CyraCom ClearLink can connect a patient to an interpreter in one of more than 140 languages and allow medical professionals to communicate with the patient.

Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest and Suburban Hospital in Maryland use ClearLink. Inova Health Systems hospitals in Virginia use a similar service called Language Line.

Last year, an Indonesian woman with no English skills and suffering from chest pains arrived alone at Sibley’s emergency department. “Her employer just dropped her off and left,” said Molly McLain, who was a nurse on duty. “There are a lot different types of chest pains, so we need as much information on a patient as possible and that’s difficult when a person can’t speak English.”

Ms. McLain turned to CyraCom’s ClearLink to find a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter. Within 15 seconds, Ms. McLain discovered that the woman had suffered a heart attack two years earlier.

“That is very important information. It means she fell into the high-risk category,” said Ms. McLain. “We needed to treat her as if she was having a heart attack.”

CyraCom International, based in Tucson, Ariz., started in 1995 as an interpretation service for trade negotiators. In 2002, the company changed its focus to the health care industry.

“We recognized that there is a need in this country to be culturally aware of how we deliver health care services,” said Michael Greenbaum, CyraCom president. “The service is really reflective of the growing diversity in the U.S. population.”

CyraCom provides ClearLink phone service to about 1,000 hospitals nationwide. Mr. Greenbaum expects the client list to expand as more foreign languages emerge.

“In 2002, we provided 80 languages,” he said. “Last year, we provided 143.”

Spanish is by far the most frequent foreign language spoken in the Washington area. The second most common in the District is Amharic (Ethiopian), followed by French, Vietnamese and Chinese (either Mandarin or Cantonese), according to CyraCom’s database. In Maryland, Korean is the second most requested language, followed by Russian, Vietnamese and Mandarin. In Virginia, the most prevalent are Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Korean and Arabic.

Although a telephone interpreter can be connected in seconds, hospitals prefer direct human contact.

“A face-to-face dialogue is the gold standard,” said Brian Miller, manager of international services at Washington Hospital Center, which employs one full-time Chinese interpreter and one Spanish interpreter who are always on call. “It is important to try to understand cultural and religious needs as well, and that is best done in person.”

Inova Health System provides eight full-time Spanish interpreters and 250 dual-role interpreters at its clinics and hospitals. Dual-role interpreters are staff members who have other primary roles but serve as interpreters in exchange for a 2 percent pay increase. Inova plans to train another 300 dual-role interpreters this year.

“There has been a growing need for language services since 2000,” said Elita Christiansen, vice president of Inova’s Community Health and Cultural Competence Department. “Since 2000, we’ve been collecting patient preferred-language information in order to know what the language needs of our patient population are.”

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