Pam Garrett picks up the receiver on one side of the dual-receiver blue phone and hands it to Lahui Lan Lin. After picking up the other receiver, Garrett dials a phone number and follows the instructions given by the computer voice on the other end.

UAB Staff Nurse Pam Garrett, right, explains discharge procedures to patient Lahui Lanlin with the help of an interpreter via UAB Hospital’s new telephone-based language services system. UAB has partnered with CyraCom to provide the service. Patients and caregivers can be linked within an average 15 seconds to off-site interpreters fluent in more than 150 languages. 

Within 15 seconds Garrett, a registered nurse, is through the computer system and explaining discharge procedures to Lanlin – with the help of a live Mandarin Chinese interpreter. Garrett tells her what changes to watch for and when, and where her follow-up appointment will be. Lanlin listens to Garrett and her interpreter, answering “Yes” and “OK” after each instruction.

This type of specialized care is now possible thanks to UAB Hospital’s partnership with the telephone-based language services company CyraCom. Through this service, patients and caregivers can be linked within an average of 15 seconds to off-site interpreters fluent in more than 150 languages.

“This has made it so much easier for the bedside nurse,” says Brandi Duke, registered nurse in Women and Infants Services. “It enables us to better serve our patients.”

The distinctive, blue-colored telephones are located throughout the hospital, including in  emergency and intensive-care units, plus maternity, cancer, neurological, cardiovascular and other patient-care units.

UAB Hospital long has provided in-person interpretation services and employs three translators. But occasionally, interpreters are not available within a convenient time frame – especially when relatively uncommon languages are involved.

UAB Hospital has been piloting the phone since the fall 2005 and went live with the system in May 2006. During the past year, the hospital staff has used the phone for 30 different language interpretations.

“UAB’s world-class care attracts patients from Europe, the Middle East, South America and many other locales, and it’s not at all unusual for international patients to require language services,” says Hans Donkersloot, assistant vice president of UAB Hospital. “The use of highly qualified, simultaneous medical interpreters provided by CyraCom enhances the ease of direct communication between limited- and non-English speaking patients and our health-care providers.”

CyraCom has installed its system in nearly 1,000 hospitals nationwide since 2003, says Michael Greenbaum, CEO of CyraCom. UAB has more than 200 of the dual-handset telephones placed throughout the medical center.

“UAB is in the top 10 percent of our users,” Greenbaum says. “The service provides critical-care translation and interpretation when you need it.”

And, says Donkersloot, “This is a great complementary service to our live translators.”

Spanish is the language most in need of interpreting at hospitals throughout the United States, according to CyraCom, and that’s also true for UAB Hospital. However, Turkish, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese also are popular languages.

Donkersloot said the number of Americans who speak languages other than English at home has increased dramatically in recent years, and UAB Hospital always is getting patients from around the world, increasing the need for hospital staff to reach these populations quickly.

“UAB is highly committed to attracting those international patients,” Donkersloot says. “We are glad to provide another service that meets the changing needs of our community.”