Google Translate especially accurate in the test with the patient's instructions


(Reuters Health) – In hospitals serving multicultural areas, doctors are increasingly looking to translate their exit instructions into languages ​​they do not speak. A new study shows that Google Translate is perhaps up to scratch, with some reservations.

Researchers who examined 100 sets of exit instructions from ER patients converted to Spanish and Chinese from English through Google Translate determined that there was very few significant errors. In one case, however, the translation could have led to a life-threatening medication error, they reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.

"We are cautiously satisfied with the results," said Elaine Khoong, lead author of the study, a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco and internist at the San Francisco General Hospital. "We recommend its use with some reservations, the first being that the translated instructions are given jointly with a translator who guides them and with the text written in English.This is not perfect, but it is better than no written instructions at all. "

Khoong's advice to doctors wishing to use Google Translate is to make sure that they communicate clearly in plain English and without jargon. "You want to write simple sentences below grade five," she added.

Khoong and his colleagues evaluated 100 sets of emergency room exit instructions written in English and assessed them for readability. quality of diagnosis explanation, follow-up instructions, medication instructions, return precautions and hospitality messages; medical jargon content; non-medical non-English question, such as the use of abbreviations, spoken English, proper names and spelling problems.

Then the researchers used the Google Translate program to convert the instructions into Spanish and Chinese. To verify the accuracy of the results, the translations were then translated into English by human translators. A second human translator checked the accuracy of these translations.

The researchers found that 594 of the 647 sentences in the original 100 instructional instructions had been accurately translated into Spanish, while 522 had been translated accurately into Chinese. A small proportion of translation errors were likely to cause significant harm to the patient: 15 of the 53 inaccurate Spanish sentences and 50 of the 125 inaccurate Chinese sentences.

Some of the errors were correct translations of unclear English instructions, but most of the translation errors of the program were due to grammar or typographical errors in the original English text that a human reader would have "forgotten" or understood, "note the researchers.

In one case, the translation would have asked the patient to continue taking a kidney medication, while the instruction in English told him to "keep the kidney medication until you have the option to talk with your kidney doctor ".

"The instructions mean that the patient has to stop treatment because it could worsen kidney function in a patient who already has a deterioration in kidney function," Khoong said. "You want to stop the treatment and wait for the kidney function to return to normal."

Having written instructions can be very helpful for patients, said Khoong. "When the discharge happens, it can be quite hectic," she added. "Relying on them to remember verbal instructions is rather ambitious."

Nevertheless, when a patient receives the instructions generated by Google Translate, it is important to explain that the instructions have been established with the help of machine translation, Khoong said.

Although he uses Google Translate in his personal life, Dr. Rahul Sharma is not ready to try it in emergencies.

"We are using a company that specializes in delivering real-time translation services to patients through audio and video," said Sharma, chair of emergency medicine and emergency room physician at NewYork-Presbyterian / Medical Center. Weill Cornell from New York. City.

Nevertheless, "any software or technology offering the potential to better communicate with patients is something to consider and examine more closely to determine if it might be suitable for the populations we serve," said Sharma in a statement. email.

But some things have to be settled first. "I have some concerns since it is not 100% accurate and there is always a level of error involved," he said. "I think even though it might have great potential and a good start, I think clinicians should be cautious and consider ways to further evaluate this service in order to reduce errors."

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, posted on February 25, 2019.

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