Hosted Cisco Video Solution Helps Hospitals Break Language Barrier

That's the problem several California hospitals are trying to solve by tapping into the Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN), a new system launched this month for sharing language interpretation services for translations between doctors and non-English speaking patients.

At the heart of the system is Cisco Systems' unified communications technology, which provides an IP-based call center that routes requests for services to the proper interpreter, depending on the language needed, and connects to the doctor and patient via video conferencing or voice conferencing. The call center is managed and hosted by Quest Technology Management, a Cisco solution provider based in Sacramento, Calif.

That means patients who speak Cambodian, Hindi, Hmong, Spanish and Tongan can have speedy access to an interpreter who can help them interact with hospital staff, said Dave Hook, director of marketing and communication at the San Mateo Medical Center, one of three hospitals that owns and operates HCIN. More than half of the hospital's patient population speaks Spanish, and 35 percent of its patients require an interpreter, he said.

"Before, doctors had to find an interpreter ... if one was even available. There could be a delay of 15 to 30 minutes or more, and it was expensive to hire additional people," Hook said. "For us, this represents a huge leap forward in patient care and patient safety." Access to interpreters is now almost instantaneous, he added.

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The San Mateo hospital also can share resources with the other two HCIN members: Contra Costa Health Services in Martinez, Calif., and San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp, Calif.

Health-care consultancy Paras and Associates brought in Quest to help build the solution, and Quest then recommended that the technology--which includes Cisco Unified Contact Center Express and Cisco Unified CallManager--be turned into a hosted service, said Quest CTO Mike Dillon.

The key to the HCIN service is that the participating hospitals don't have to modify their infrastructures to run it, according to Dillon. "When we go to the hospital, we don't want to try to figure out their whole infrastructure. We want them to get voice and video easily. We wanted this to be simple, and we didn't want it to be an act of God to get it to work," he said.

Quest worked with Cisco developers to create some custom firewall code, which took two to three months. "Everyone had their own way of doing IP addressing and their own security policies to allow you to connect to their network," Dillon said.

The result was a seamless connection between the hospitals and HCIN, Dillon added. "We did ask the hospitals to separate out a VLAN for the video devices to sit on. That's it," he said.

The HCIN project represents the vast opportunity Cisco sees for itself and its channel partners in the health-care vertical, said Kent Gray, global health-care solutions manager at the San Jose, Calif., networking giant. About 75 percent to 80 percent of Cisco's health-care business is in the United States, he said.

"It's one of the fastest-growing and most profitable [vertical markets] for our partners," Gray said.