The Utility of Mobile Technology in Medical Interpretation: A Literature Review of Current Practices



Language barriers limit healthcare access. However, professional interpretation usage is infrequent due to high cost and poor interpreter availability. Healthcare-oriented mobile applications are becoming more accepted and may help alleviate this burden. This literature review aims to better understand the utility of mobile technology in healthcare interpretation. Specifically, the objective of this review is to synthesize the feasibility, outcome, and challenges of implementing technological medical interpretation services.

Patient Involvement:

No patients were involved for this review.


In December 2019, MEDLINE (Ovid) was systematically searched according to PRISMA guidelines. All articles discussing the utility of technology in healthcare interpretation encounters were included.


Two major themes emerged: 1) comparing video and phone interpretation with in-person interpretation and 2) assessing direct translation software in healthcare settings. Phone and video interpretation help reduce overall patient wait-times. Both patients and clinicians preferred in-person or video interpretation over interpretation by phone. Chief benefits of using direct translation software include immediate access, low costs, and sustainability. Several studies discussed potential translation inaccuracies and the importance of having professional interpreters in medico-legal discussions.


Mobile applications may be used to facilitate access to medical interpreters with high clinician and patient satisfaction. Direct in-app translations facilitate access but risk inaccuracies with important medico-legal considerations.

Practical value:

Mobile applications are available at low costs and can improve access to interpreters though video and phone calls. Mobile software can also provide direct translation and facilitate clinical care. Clinicians should prioritize face-to-face encounters with professional medical interpreters, whenever possible. In a time of social distancing amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is crucial value in elucidating the best telehealth interpretation practices. 

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