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Clinical practice

Testing the Use of Translation Apps in Clinical Communication with Elderly Patients


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

Hwang, K., et al. (2022). Testing the use of translation apps to overcome everyday healthcare communication in Australian aged-care hospital wards—An exploratory study. Nursing Open, 9, 578–585.  doi .org/10.1002/nop2.1099

What this research was about and why it is important

Effective communication is an important aspect of providing and receiving safe and person-centred care. However, language barriers (insufficient level of English) between healthcare professionals and patients can result in poorer healthcare outcomes for the individual. The importance of professional interpreters in Australian healthcare settings is widely recognized and established within legislation and government healthcare policy. However, there are situations when professional interpreters are not available or can´t be present during a patient´s examination. Then healthcare professionals may rely on family members, bilingual staff members or resort to body language which always poses a risk. Mobile translation apps could provide an innovative solution to overcome language differences in risk-free healthcare settings in the absence of a professional interpreter. This research tested three mobile translation apps (CALD Assist, Talk To Me and Google Translate) in Australian aged-care hospital wards to address language barriers in everyday interaction between healthcare staff and the elderly with limited English proficiency (LEP). It was revealed that the use of translation apps helped to improve communication for basic care needs and assisted staff in completing their tasks.

What the researchers did

  • A two-month trial of three translation apps was conducted across four aged-care hospital wards.
  • Observed interactions during use of translation apps were recorded. Data collected included the perceived efficacy of the translation app in communication, the type and frequency of use and perceived acceptability of use with inpatients.
  • Staff surveys were collected at the end of the trial. Staff described their experience of using the translation apps, estimated frequency of use, most frequently used phrases, enablers, and barriers to using the translation apps, and whether they would use the translation apps in the future.
  • Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and thematic content analysis of open-ended responses in the survey and observations.

What the researchers found

  • The translation apps were mostly used for identifying pain and assisting with activities of daily living (ADL).
  • Qualitative findings revealed that translation apps aided staff in providing care and improved rapport.
  • The findings from the descriptive analysis of the surveys showed that healthcare staff found translation apps useful.
  • 65% respondents would use translation apps again in the future.

Things to consider

  • The trials were conducted only in four aged-care hospital wards at three large hospital sites in Melbourne, Australia.
  • The researchers considered only free translation apps and did not evaluate the usage of paid translation apps.
  • The researchers did not have specific rules around the collection of observations to improve data collection.
  • This trial captured the perceptions of staff usage of translation apps, but did not directly capture the patients’ perceptions of engaging with the translation app.


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