MediBabble Bridges Language Barrier Between Doctors and Patients

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Jul 1, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

For emergency room physicians working in cities with diverse populations, the first—and often highest—hurdle to diagnosing a non-native English speaking patient is language. In the time it takes for a hospital’s on-staff translator to arrive and decode a patient's symptoms…well, we don’t want to go there.

This all-too-common language problem caused University of California San Francisco School of Medicine students Alex Blau and Brad Cohn to conceive and bring to market MediBabble, a free iPhone and iPad app that lets physicians ask patients common medical questions in five languages: Cantonese, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish.

Patients can respond with "yes" and "no" answers, gestures (pointing or holding up a number of fingers to quantify pain severity), or scrolling on the device (to indicate last menstrual period or date of birth, for example).

"So many of us are walking around the hospital with these sophisticated devices in our pockets, so [we thought], why isn't there some app you can pull up to ask high-level questions for time-sensitive conditions?” said Blau, to Fast Company.

The project took three years to get off the ground and was funded almost entirely by doctors and the pro-bono work of translators and developers.

Haitian-Creole was added to the application after the Haitian earthquake in January 2010.

Since its launch in April, nearly 8,000 people have downloaded the app. The positive reviews have poured in., the premiere mobile health application review site, declared MediBabble to be a "standard-setting must-have." Scubdin voted it the 2011 winner in the "Best Medical App for Health Care Professionals."

“Ninety percent of diagnoses come from the patient’s self-reported medical history, so the ability to communicate is critical,” said Blau in a post on the UCSF website. “Time is not an asset doctors or patients have. You need that information when you need it.”

Thanks to Fast Company.

Download the free app here.