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Overcoming Language Barriers in Paramedic Care With an App Designed to Improve Communication With Foreign-Language Patients: Nonrandomized Controlled Pilot Study.

BACKGROUND: Communication across language barriers is a particular challenge for health care providers. In emergency medical services, interpreters are mostly not available on rescue scenes, which jeopardizes safe and high-quality medical care. In a cocreative process together with paramedics and software designers, we developed a fixed-phrase translation app with 600 phrases and 18 supported languages that supports paramedics when providing care to foreign-language patients. This paper reports on the results of a pilot study to evaluate the app's effect on paramedic-patient communication.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to gain insights into the efficacy and feasibility of a multilingual app that helps paramedics to communicate with patients who are not proficient in the local language.

METHODS: A 3-armed nonrandomized interventional pilot study was conducted in 4 rescue stations in the German Federal State of Lower Saxony: 3 rural areas and 1 in urban environment. The intervention group comprised rescue missions with patients with limited German language proficiency (LGP) with whom the app was used; control group 1 comprised LGP patients without app usage; and control group 2 consisted of rescue missions with German-speaking patients. For each rescue operation with LGP patients, paramedics filled out questionnaires about the communications with patients. From standardized Rescue Service Case Protocols, we extracted information on patient demographics (age and sex), clinical aspects (preliminary diagnosis and Glasgow Coma Scale), and rescue operation characteristics (time spent on emergency scene and additional dispatch of emergency physicians). The primary outcome was the paramedics' perceived quality of communication with LGP patients. The secondary outcome was the ability to obtain necessary information from patients and the ability to provide important information to patients. A linear regression model was applied to assess the impact of the app on perceived communication, controlling demographic factors, and severity of illness.

RESULTS: A total of 22 LGP patients were recruited into the intervention group and 122 into control group 1. The control group 2 included 27,212 German-speaking patients. LGP patients were more than 2 decades younger than German-speaking patients. App usage among LGP patients was associated with higher perceived overall quality of communication (0.7 points on a 5-point Likert scale, P=.03). Applying a linear regression model controlling for age, sex, and Glasgow Coma Scale, the quality of communication was associated with an increase of 0.9 points (95% CI 0.2-1.6, P=.01). Compared to either German-speaking patients or LGP patients, paramedics spent 6-7 minutes longer on an emergency scene when the app was used (P=.24).

CONCLUSIONS: The use of the app suggests a relevant improvement in communication with patients with limited proficiency in the locally spoken language in paramedic care. The small sample size and the lack of randomization reduce the generalizability of the findings.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: German Clinical Trials Register DRKS00016719;

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