SIIReN - System Integration & Innovation Research Network

Primary Health Care System

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“Integrating Communication Supports into Primary Care Practice: Interpreters, Cultural-Brokers, and Google Translated "
Presenters:  Kevin Pottie MD, CCFP, MClSc, FCFP, University of Ottawa
January 19, 2012


Effective patient-centered communication enables practitioners to provide care that elicits and addresses the individual concerns, goals and ideas of their patients. Its presence may strengthen feelings of trust, increase adherence to treatment and improve patient outcomes, while its absence can lead to anything from perceived decrease in quality of care to adverse health outcomes. Populations from foreign socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds are often vulnerable to suffering gaps in communication with their health care provider, which could ultimately lead to deficient health care provision, medical errors and increased medical costs. During a clinical encounter there are various mechanisms of communication, both verbal and non-verbal, which facilitate interaction at various communicative stages.

Our project objective was to estimate the potential harms and benefits of using machine translation with vulnerable populations at three communicative stages:

  1. Confirming the symptoms
  2. Confirming a diagnosis, and
  3. Discussing a treatment plan.

Based upon statistical machine translation software, Google Translate has recently become a powerful cost-effective tool that has consistently outperformed its competitors in government backed studies in the United States. We believe that this technology could potentially offer Ontario practitioners a free and accessible supplementary communicative support, whose limitations could be mitigated by the other forms of communication present in the clinical encounter. This presentation will report on our emerging technology assessment findings.

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