Communication is key in healthcare, but for those who primarily speak another language, it can be difficult to communicate the precise details of their needs and pains. Physicians and nurses are accustomed to using telephone interpreters to speak with patients with limited English proficiency. North Carolina’s Novant Health is now using video remote interpreters to make it easier for health professionals to communicate with patients despite language barriers.


Language is tricky. Take this sentence: We read and have read (but we see red) and though no matter how thorough, it is tough to learn another language. Even native English speakers have trouble with some of the subtle differences in spellings and pronunciations. For someone who learned English as a second language, it can be easier to explain their symptoms in their first language.

Headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Novant Health serves over 4 million patients with a network of more than 1,200 physicians and 26,000 employees in nearly 500 locations. The local health network offers free interpreter services for individuals and families who need assistance. This covers foreign language interpreters for those with limited English proficiency, American Sign Language interpreters, and teletypewriter (TTY) services for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.

FOX8 News recently reported that Novant medical professionals will now use an iPad equipped with technology that allows them to select various languages, including American Sign Language. Video remote interpreters appear on the screen in real-time to interact with both the physician and patient.

According to the report, the technology has been beneficial. FOX8 News interviews Dr. Terrance Johns, who had the following to share:

“We have a number of patients who are Spanish speaking primarily and they come to us for help. I speak some Spanish and it's pretty good, but there are times when I'm limited in regards to what information I'm able to understand,” said Dr. Terrance Johns, an internal medicine physician with Novant Health Thomasville Associates. “We had a telephone that we would bring into the room. There would be an interpreter on the other end of the telephone and we would sit the telephone down on a computer table and we would just listen through telephone, and that was not so effective. It was clumsy and it was awkward.”

Johns says the video feature and better audio quality have made for a seamless experience.

The service provides a relief to both patients and staff, and offers employment for interpreters in the state. It is confidential, and interpreters are employed by Novant to keep information secure. Interpreters are even available in the early morning hours for emergency services. The use of new innovative technology to improve the lives of North Carolina residents is a step in the right direction for the NC healthcare industry.

Will any of your friends or family utilize this service at their next doctor’s appointment? Will you? Let us know in the comments, or share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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