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Clinical practice

Comparing the Features of Language Translation Apps for the Purposes of Clinical Communication

June 2023 | Building rapport | Clinical practice | Healthcare around the World | Research | Translation

Panayiotou, A. et al. (2019). Language Translation Apps in Health Care Settings: Expert Opinion. JMIR mHealth and uHealth. 7(4):e11316  doi: 10.2196/11316

What this research was about and why it is important

People without proficient English from non-English-speaking countries may not receive equitable care if their healthcare workers do not speak their primary language. Use of professional interpreters is considered the gold standard in Australia. However, for a variety of reasons, it is often limited to key aspects of care such as diagnosis and consent. This study uses experts in the field of healthcare translation and cross-cultural communication to evaluate the content of iPad-compatible translation apps and provide expert opinion regarding their suitability for healthcare situations in which an interpreter would not be available. With the emergence of mobile technologies, healthcare professionals are increasingly using digital translation tools to fill this gap. However, many of these technologies have not been developed for healthcare settings and their use has not been evaluated. This study is aimed to evaluate iPad compatible translation apps to determine their suitability for enabling everyday interactions in clinical practice.

What the researchers did

  • The researchers searched for iPad-compatible language translation apps at no cost which were able to translate at least one of the top 10 languages spoken in Australia.
  • The researchers conducted an evaluation of retrieved apps comprising 2 stages: feature analysis and analysis of suitability for everyday clinical conversations.

What the researchers found

  • In total, 15 apps were evaluated.
  • 8 apps contained voice-to-voice and voice-to-text translation options.
  • 6 apps were restricted to using preset health phrases.
  • 1 app used a combination of free input and preset phrases.
  • 5 apps were excluded before stage 2.
  • 6 of the 10 remaining apps reviewed in stage 2 were specifically designed for healthcare translation purposes.
  • 2 apps were rated as suitable: CALD Assist and Talk To Me.
  • Both of them contained simple and appropriate preset health phrases and did not contain conversations that are normally within the realm of professional interpreters.
  • The apps that allow translation of free voice, text, or image information were deemed to be the least suitable for healthcare settings.

Things to consider

  • It was beyond the scope of this study to examine translation accuracy and cultural suitability.
  • This study provides a snapshot of the available iPad-compatible translation apps and considerations for use in the healthcare setting. As more apps become available, further research will be required.
  • This study excluded apps that were available at a cost, only available on Android devices, or involved languages other than English as the primary language.


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