For language services and tech providers, the opportunity in the telehealth market lies at the intersection of the language industry, projected to reach USD 33bn over the next three years, and telehealth, estimated to reach USD 271bn by 2026.
Speaking on the Telehealth Panel at SlatorCon Remote March 2022, Dieter Runge noted how the massive opportunity offered by the telehealth sector was evident in Australia and Asia Pacific, especially over the past year.
Runge, Co-founder of Texas-based interpreting software provider, Boostlingo, highlighted four factors driving growth in the sector: a growing elderly population, increased chronic illness, rising demand for advanced health facilities, and healthcare infrastructure (e.g., high quality Internet).
Coupled with the fact that Asia Pacific is home to thousands of languages, and 1 in 4 Australians is a non-native English speaker (some of low English proficiency or LEP), the opportunity is clearly huge — albeit rife with certain challenges.
According to Runge, “LEP patients are being left behind in a new digital divide. They’re unable to access video remote interpreting or even OPI sessions because they don’t know that these services are available. Often, these services are simply not available and, as a result, the uptake is not as pervasive as we would hope at this point.”
The panel agreed that the adoption of video remote interpreting (VRI) has been lagging behind that of over-the-phone interpreting (OPI). “To organize a video consultation requires much more than just a telephone call in terms of workflow design, resources, skill sets, and collaboration,” said Yue Hu of Northern Health, a key provider of public healthcare in Australia.
As Director of Transcultural & Language Services, Hu explained how it takes a multidisciplinary team to successfully deliver VRI. In Northern Health’s case, the company relies on an in-house interpreting service team comprising 40 staff members covering over 20 languages.
Also crucial to successful VRI deployment: tech integration. A healthcare provider will, at some point, have to rely on an external language service provider (LSP) — especially when patients in the culturally diverse region that is Australia and Apac happen to speak low-resource languages. But any synergy between LSP and healthcare client is only as good as how easily that client can tap into the LSP’s resources.
As Tea Dietterich pointed out, “Any LSP using an interpreting delivery system has to be able to integrate with a telehealth platform.” Dietterich is CEO and Founder of 2M Language Services, a Brisbane-based language and tech provider. (Catch Dietterich’s SlatorPod episode for a deep-dive into the Australian language services market.)
Thus, successful VRI deployment will likely entail conducting many trials on numerous platforms — everything available on the market, as Northern Health’s Hu put it — as needed to ensure a seamless experience.
The panel, of course, also discussed the hot button topic of machine translation use in medical settings. Because much of telehealth may not always occur in settings that can easily be monitored or controlled, the use of convenient apps such as Google Translate have come to pose a risk.
“Telehealth is not only the actual appointment or consultation. It is also the communication that happens before and after the consultation that determines the outcome,” Dietterich said.
Northern Health’s Hu concurred, saying, “Clinicians start to use machine translation apps in the ward to talk to the patient. We know it’s against policy and shouldn’t be done in a medical context. On the other hand, we do value and appreciate a clinician’s intention to communicate with LEP patients. This clearly calls for an on-demand service and we see this as a good opportunity to make video interpreting a success.”
The Telehealth Panel and full conference video are now available via Slator’s Video On-Demand channel.