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The oral health service breaking language barriers

A telehealth system introduced by NSLHD Oral Health Services (OHS) is helping ensure non-English speaking patients receive best possible dental treatment. 

With assistance from the district’s virtual care team, the NSLHD OHS partnered with the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Health Care Interpreter Service (HCIS) to ensure interpreters could ‘attend’ appointments remotely via a virtual platform.

The program was introduced during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued to largely replace in-person attendance by interpreters, who would sometimes be delayed due to the volume of appointments and travel times. 

NSLHD OHS Business Manager Anju Sharma said the system was proving popular with everyone involved.

“It has worked fabulously well,” she said. “Patients have said they like that someone is on time, and the clinicians have embraced it too. “We can save 10-15 minutes on many appointments, and we see the benefits in both time and cost-saving measures.”

The video interpreting service allows interpreters to join appointments via the myVirtualCare platform and interpret important information for patients about their treatment when needed.

There’s a saying, ‘you should never waste a crisis’. Although it’s been challenging and using technology continues to be a learning process, we are delighted with how this is progressing
WSLHD HCIS Manager Gordana Vasic

Prior to the pandemic, interpreters would mainly attend appointments in person. As WSLHD HCIS covers three districts, interpreters had to travel extensively to appointments, resulting in interpreters being occasionally delayed. One of the advantages of video interpreting is the increased availability of and faster access to interpreters. 

In addition, many other clinical services in NSLHD have adopted video interpreting, which is now available in 66 languages. The NSLHD virtual care team and HCIS work closely with services to enable access to the video interpreting service.

The number of video interpreting sessions in NSLHD increased from 199 sessions in 2020 to 1,070 sessions in 2021. In 2022 more than 2000 sessions have already occurred.

“Many of our culturally and linguistically diverse patients use apps like Zoom and WhatsApp to contact their relatives overseas, so using ‘online’ communication isn’t foreign to them,” WSLHD HCIS Manager Gordana Vasic said. 

NSLHD Multicultural Health Service Manager Cathy Butler said the introduction of video interpreting had been very timely.  

“Many consumers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have provided feedback on the need to improve the utilisation of health care interpreters in health services,” she said. “Improving access to health care interpreting services is also an objective in the NSLHD Strategic Plan.

“It is important staff and consumers work together to ensure our services are culturally welcoming, safe and responsive to the diverse needs of our community.”

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