As a global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has called on interpreters and translators to step forward and contribute their linguistic expertise to worldwide aid efforts on numerous fronts. As well as supporting clinical trials, the past several months have seen interpreters help countries and organizations tally COVID-19 cases, reach patients who speak diverse languages, and spread life-saving information to people seeking access across cultural and linguistic barriers. In what may come as more of a surprise, though, it is not only their linguistic credentials and sophistication that has made these interpreters such an invaluable part of this global effort. Rather, as Vice President of the International Federation of Translators Alison Rodriguez recently observed, interpreters’ skill and adaptability to technology has made the group uniquely poised to take on many of the definitive challenges of the pandemic.

Just as interesting as the importance of these interpreters’ technical savvy is the way it reflects on trends in medical care that the pandemic has seemingly accelerated by force. Telemedicine, already experiencing a small if unnoticed revolution pre-pandemic, has seen an almost overnight rise in use cases since doctors started recommending that patients stay home for their doctors’ appointments. As a technological approach to conducting check-ins, appointments, and other necessary medical procedures through online surveys, video conferencing, and voice calls, telemedicine reflects both the digital ambitions of an advancing industry and the unique demand for remote solutions that extreme healthcare challenges present.

However, the overnight nature of telemedicine’s ascendance has exposed some growing pains. Some patients in telehealth feel uncomfortable speaking to their doctor without a familiar medical interpreter present. When presented with a range of language options on a digital interface, some language groups (such as speakers of Cantonese or Burmese) struggle to identify the relevant language in which to conduct the appointment. In just one reflection of this phenomenon, hospitals have already seen a steep drop in non-English-speaking patient traffic since shelter-in-place orders first came into effect.

While modern healthcare can accommodate interpretation through video calls, the coordination process for said video call appointments is still usually conducted in English. The user interfaces of telehealth apps and portals may or may not be translated for an adequate range of cultures and languages, widening the barrier between patients and doctors. In 2016, 66 million United States residents spoke a language other than English at home. Depending on the state, the possibility that any given adult speaks little to no English can be as low as 1 in 30. Studies even as recent as May 2020 on the implementation of telehealth say that “lack of translation into the community’s native language” was the most common educational barrier to telehealth’s success in rural areas.

As a rapidly evolving service before the pandemic, telemedicine will likely remain a source of useful and lifesaving technologies for those who need them most, whether they suffer from chronic illnesses and disabilities or simply wouldn’t make it onto the doctor’s patient list otherwise. These critical technological solutions present an innate demand for the cultural and linguistic support needed to reach different populations and patient groups. Wherever these services are needed, CSOFT’s global network of certified and deeply experienced linguists have the adaptability, technical knowledge, and commitment to help ensure telehealth attains universal access for all it can benefit.

About CSOFT Health Sciences

CSOFT Health Sciences provides end-to-end medical translations for all phases of the product lifecycle, from pre-clinical to post-launch. We also specialize in market access consulting, medical writing, and CTD/eCTD submissions with the FDA, EMA, and NMPA. Our operations are compliant with ISO 17100 and certified in ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 13485:2016, ensuring our customized solutions meet the rigorous regulatory requirements of global submissions.

About CSOFT

CSOFT International is a leading provider of cross-border communications for enterprises seeking growth in global markets. Our expertise in localization, documentation, and branding encompasses a full range of end-to-end content and consulting services that we deliver in over 250 languages. With a focus in health sciences and smart technology, we work closely with our clients to deliver precision solutions to the challenges of engaging markets, consumers, and regulatory environments worldwide.

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