Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals saving costs by switching to online interpreters

Treating non-English speaking patients can be a real challenge for doctors, nurses and therapists. Most rely on in-person interpreters. But one healthcare network is turning to another source for help. 


Providence Health, a large regional medical service provider, has turned to online interpreters.

Immediate access

Currently, more than 30 Providence facilities in the Western United States are using a video interpreting company to help doctors, nurses and therapists communicate with their patients.

They used to rely heavily on in-person interpreters, but starting in 2011, the network began assessing a number of online interpretation companies to find which one suited its needs best.

A touch-screen computer allows staff to contact an interpreter within seconds. Previously, the facilities would use a phone-based system or called in a live interpreter when one was available.


The advantage of video interpreting are many, but the two biggies are reduced costs and the ability to respond to a patient’s needs quickly.

Rapid response is extremely important when treating deaf patients. The online access gives medical professional immediate access to interpreters, which is critical when treating deaf patients in the emergency room.

Finding American Sign Language interpreters locally can be challenging, especially in off-peak hours, Cathy McInroe, the hospital’s director of social work, told The Spokesman-Review. “Now, with the (online) system, you hit the button and you soon have a real person on the video screen doing the interpreting.”

Providence’s decision to use more remote services comes from efforts to reduce costs. Starting at around $30 per hour, live interpreters charge hospitals for per-mile travel costs and for the time spent interpreting. And there is a wait period with live interpreters to get to the facility. And of course, payors don’t cover the expense of interpreters, causing hospitals to cover the cost.

How it works

Providence ended up selecting the Language Access Network (LAN) as their online interpreter provider.

While based in Ohio, the Language Access Network has five centers with medically trained interpreters ready to translate in more than 200 languages around the clock.

Providence pays LAN a monthly fee, plus per-minute charges, as most remote video interpreting companies do.

For LAN, the most frequent language requests are for Spanish, Farsi, American Sign Language and Arabic. But at Providence’s hospitals the languages most in demand are Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish and Vietnamese. Therefore, the hospital system also uses a Seattle and Wenatchee-based firm, InDemand Interpreting, for some of its remote video interpretation.

There are still times though when Providence will call in a live interpreter because a patient may not be comfortable chatting on a video screen.

It all comes down to making the patient happy and healthy.

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