Some of life’s most critical decisions are made in courtrooms and hospitals. But as the U.S. has diversified, a multitude of different languages have proliferated making it a challenge for legal and healthcare workers to communicate quickly and effectively with non-English speakers.
Clearwater, Fla.-based Stratus Video is using technology to solve that problem, and it’s reaping the rewards of helping fill a much-needed gap in the market. Over the past three years, the company has seen its revenue grow by 4,190 percent, and was ranked 66th on Inc. magazine’s list of the nation’s 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies.
“You push one button and within 30 seconds you get an interpreter on the screen, looking at the patient and able to speak both to the patient and doctor,” said Stratus Video President David Fetterolf, describing the company’s groundbreaking, “Uber-like” video remote interpretation (VRI) service that runs on tablets and smartphones.
Interpreting is “an enormous market that’s shifting away from phone and in-person to video,” he added. “That’s why we’ve been growing so quickly.”
In the days before VRI, if a live, in-person interpreter was not available, one could usually be reached by phone. But Prado Antolino, manager of language services at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, said that was far from an ideal solution. In fact, it was pretty much useless for deaf patients – as well as patients who spoke less-common languages, such as Haitian Creole, that tend to have a dearth of qualified interpreters.
“We started integrating VRI about four years ago,” Antolino said. “When we started looking around at visual services, we had a need to provide better service for deaf patients. There were services available via laptops, but there was a problem with video resolution and sharpness.
“By pure coincidence,” she continued, “a Stratus rep called my cell phone and talked about what their technology did. They talked about the tablet platform and my radar went off. We brought them in for a demo and the quality of video and audio was much better, and the interface was very intuitive.”
Moffitt maintains an in-house staff of Spanish language interpreters, and it contracts with local agencies that provide interpreters who specialize in sign language and other common languages. Antolino doesn’t think the need for live, in-person interpreters will dwindle anytime soon, as doctors tend to prefer having interpreters physically in the room, as do many deaf patients. But she thinks Stratus’s VRI technology adds a much-needed component to the blend of interpretive services that institutions can offer.
“For languages other than Spanish, video is by far the second-best option,” she said. Thanks to Stratus and VRI, she added, “the blend is going to continue to be very strong.”
Including hardware expenses, Antolino said Moffitt spends about $30,000 per year on VRI, but the center’s rate of utilization is going up, especially as Stratus continues to add new language experts to its team.
“For a while, they didn’t have Haitian Creole speakers, but they added that very quickly,” she said. “It came online in a very timely manner for us. The number of languages they’ve added over the past year or so has exceeded expectations.”
Fetterolf stressed that Stratus’s end product is the interpreter, not the technology. In other words, the product is only as good as the people who comprise it.
“We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of interpreters, and we ensure that every one of them is up to the right standards,” he said. “There are certain certification standards for hospitals and courts. We will put [prospective interpreters] through our training and they will be tested and qualified if there’s no other existing qualification for that language. It’s a combination of training, testing, and quality assurance and monitoring. It’s such a big, important technology because of what’s happening in our country with immigration and refugees.”
Antolino said VRI can positively affect the lives of people who are treated at Moffitt. “Our patients talk about the difference it makes to have a friendly face on the screen or in the room with them. They tell us other places don’t have the same level of interpretive services we offer. There’s research that shows that bridging the language gap produces better outcomes” for cancer patients.
She continued, “One of our deaf patients came for a visit, and we’d hired a live interpreter for the session, and it was a highly charged situation. But the interpreter had an accident on the way to the facility. But we had the Stratus technology and we were able to connect to a video interpreter. That made a critical difference in the level of comfort for the patient.”