Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

Here in San Francisco an estimated 31 percent of the population is non English speaking or has limited English  proficiency (LEP). But statewide fewer than half of physicians speak a language in addition to English.

The gap in patient/provider communication, while not a new problem, is a significant contributor to poor health outcomes. Recently I illustrated the connections between low health literacy and poor outcomes in a post for KQED.org. Communications barriers are tough to solve, especially in areas with a high percentage of immigrant patients.

Before the computer age, doctors and patients relied on medical interpreters and translators. Many patients relied informally on a family member -- often a child -- to bridge the communication gap. But today I learned about the MediBabble app -- and its critics .

The free app was designed in San Francisco by med students precisely because they found communicating with non-English-speaking patients so challenging. Its menus of yes/no questions support health history, exam and instructions for patients in the four languages most urgently needed here.

Although the controversy over the software is at least a year old I still find it provocative. Medical interpreters opposed to the app asserted that "the utilization of devices such as MediBabble will only put LEP patients at further risk of negative health outcomes, and asked "...can health care providers that use MediBabble really deliver care that is equitable as required by law under...the Civil Rights Act?"

Use the comments feature to tell me what you think!

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