Video interpretation technology helps Mercy Medical Center patients

MARTTI says hello, in 200 languages

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Mercy Medical staff have a new companion — and his name is MARTTI.

MARTTI, or My Accessible Real Time Trusted Interpreter, is a portable, wireless video conferencing unit that’s helping the hospital overcome language barriers.

A nurse or physician can push a few buttons on the flat screen device and have immediate access to medically trained interpreters of more than 200 languages, said Dani Blin, a patient relations assistant at Mercy.

The five MARTTI units, which have been in use since November, are deployed in high-use areas, such as the Mercy Birthplace, the radiology department and the emergency department.

It’s technology that came in handy Thursday afternoon when Stephanie Lubbock, a nurse at the hospital, visited Bonifacio Escobar. Escobar, who originally is from Mexico, was admitted earlier in the day after complications arose from a previous back surgery.

Lubbock turned on the screen, said hello to an interpreter and then started asking Escobar questions: How’s your pain level, is the medication helping, do you feel unsteady on your feet? She paused after each question to allow the interpreter to ask the same thing in Spanish and then waited for Escobar’s answer.

From Escobar’s perspective, he said — through the MARTTI interpreter — that the service helped him a good deal. He can understand English, he said, but can’t speak it.

“I was very nervous when I came here, this made me more comfortable,” he said.

“This would have been great for a few patients I had last year,” said Lubbock after the check-in.

She learned to use MARTTI that afternoon.

That’s because the technology is extremely intuitive and easy to use, said Heather Akers, director or organizational development, which includes overseeing patient relations and advocacy as well as education, leadership development, and technology education. “Two touches on the screen and you’re connected to a person.”

Akers said the hospital began looking at the technology, produced by Columbus, Ohio-based Language Access Network, because the need for translation services has increased greatly. The company provides medical interpreting services to more than 500 health care facilities across the country.

Mercy contracts with several local interpretation agencies, she said, but that can take time to find an interpreter and get him or her to the hospital. And in instances where an interpreter is not available, nurses and physicians have to rely on a patient’s family member to translate.

“This way the family member can remain in that support role,” she added.

Mercy made 79 calls in December — the first full month MARTTI was in use — that lasted about 859 minutes in total, Blin said. As of Jan. 21 the hospital already had spoken with MARTTI interpreters for 802 minutes.

“Once people realized this was readily available, more people started to ask for it,” Akers said.

Spanish is the most frequent interpretation need, followed by Swahili, according to hospital data.

MARTTI is not meant to replace in-person translation services or the use of LangugeLine — over-the-phone translation services — but it is meant to fill in the gaps, Akers said.

“In an emergency situation where you need someone (with those skills) now ... ,” she added.

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