Google Translate: The new tool in your doctor's kit

Having an interpreter in the room or on the phone isn't always possible. So, can Google Translate work in a pinch? One Ottawa doctor who works with refugees says it's becoming more common, and it many cases it gets the job done.
Dr. Kevin Pottie is a family doctor in Ottawa who works with immigrant and refugee families. He has used Google Translate to communicate with patients. ((CBC))

If you're travelling abroad and you can't read the menu, what do you do? Most likely, pull out your smart phone and open up Google Translate. 

And if a patient walks into your office who doesn't speak English and there's no interpreter to be found? Or you're working in the ER and you've only got a few minutes to figure out what's wrong with someone? 

You might do exactly the same thing. 

Dr. Kevin Pottie is a family doctor in Ottawa who treats many patients with language barriers.

He tells Dr. Brian Goldman, host of White Coat, Black Art that with some tech-savvy patients, Google Translate can save the day. 

"The interpreter was late, and I had a whole family and I said, 'Let's try Google Translate.' I pulled it up on my computer screen and the adolescent 15-year-old patient pulled out her smart phone," says Dr. Pottie, who is also Co-Chair of the Canadian Collaboration for Immigrant and Refugee Health and Founding Director of the Immigrant Health Clinic of Ottawa.

He says they were able to use the app to translate between Arabic and English rapidly. 

"We were able to go back and forth with three different patients." 

But he cautions that it's not a perfect tool for all languages or all patients. He had one woman who believed he'd learned to speak her language when he used the app. 

He's also used it alongside a trained interpreter in the room, who was able to correct any mistakes made by the machine translation tool. The bonus was, he was able to communicate more directly with his patient. 

"Because I was  giving her an immediate phrase in her language, that's coming from me." 

When you see someone who hasn't smiled in months all of a sudden come to life as a human being,  I felt there was some value in using this technology to communicate with people." - Dr. Kevin Pottie on using Google Translate to communicate with a patient.