Do you encounter language barriers in your work as a nurse practitioner? As NPs, we care for patients of diverse backgrounds. To get to the root of the problem, it’s most helpful to communicate in the patient’s native language. When this doesn’t occur, valuable information can be lost. Not to mention, federal law requires that healthcare facilities that receive federal funding offer language services to patients who need them.

In many settings such as the hospital, for example, nurse practitioners have access to a language line service that can interpret the interaction. In smaller clinics, however, these services may not be available. If you find yourself without a bilingual backup to assist you as an NP, interpretation apps can help. While these certainly aren’t a substitute for a service like a language line, they can be helpful for quick screening exams or to overcome minor communication barriers. So, which interpretation apps can nurse practitioners turn to in a pinch?

1. MediBabble 

One of the best things about MedBabble is that, well, it’s free! The app assists in taking a medical history and performing an assessment with non-English speaking patients. Included in the app is a database of clinical questions and instructions organized by system and symptoms. The app assists with communication in five languages – Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, and Hatian Creole. The app also allows for written display aiding communication with hearing impaired patients.

2. Canopy Apps

Canopy App is a 20 language platform that helps explain medical concepts to non-English speaking patients. Content is arranged into four specialties, internal medicine, emergency medicine, OB/GYN and surgery making the app valuable for nurse practitioners in a variety of settings. The app, for example, can explain to the patient what to expect with a specific medical procedure. If you’re looking to improve your own personal language skills, Canopy also offers Spanish language courses specific to healthcare providers.

3. VerbalCare 

VerbalCare provides communication services for patient-provider interactions in a different light. Initially designed for stroke patients with aphasia, the app allows patients to select an icon that indicates the message they wish to communicate. VerbalCare works well in a hospital setting, particularly when it comes to communicating needs and symptoms to nurses and providers.

4. Speak & Translate

While not designed specifically for healthcare, Speak & Translate earns high marks when it comes to translation apps. The app allows for instant verbal (54 languages) or written (100 languages) translation. Simply show your patient the written translation of what you have to say, or allow the app to speak the message audibly back to the patient. As an added bonus, the app is available free of charge.

5. Google Translate

Google Translate operates as a smartphone app or can simply be pulled up on your computer to assist with cross cultural communication. Type out what you want to tell your patient, and Google will communicate the message in writing using one of 103 languages. Google translate is free and user friendly.

6. iTranslate 

For just $6.99, nurse practitioners using iTranslate can speak into their phones and hear themselves back in another language. One feature of the app also allows users to flag commonly used phrases, a major time saver during a busy day in the clinic. iTranslate supports 42 of the world’s most commonly spoken languages and doesn’t require any typing on part of the user. While not specifically designed for healthcare, the app proves convenient in the clinical setting.

Which apps do you use for cross-cultural communication in your practice?


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