Language translation apps in health care settings: Expert opinion

Anita Panayiotou, Anastasia Gardner, Sue Williams, Emiliano Zucchi, Monita Mascitti-Meuter, Anita M.Y. Goh, Emily You, Terence W.H. Chong, Dina Logiudice, Xiaoping Lin, Betty Haralambous, Frances Batchelor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Currently, over 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes. People without proficient English from non-English speaking countries may not receive equitable care if their health care workers do not speak their primary language. Use of professional interpreters is considered the gold standard; however, for a variety of reasons, it is often limited to key aspects of care such as diagnosis and consent. With the emergence of mobile technologies, health care workers are increasingly using digital translation tools to fill this gap. However, many of these technologies have not been developed for health care settings and their use has not been evaluated. Objective: This study aimed to evaluate iPad-compatible language translation apps to determine their suitability for enabling everyday conversations in health care settings. Methods: Translation apps were identified by searching the Apple iTunes Store and published and grey literature. Criteria for inclusion were that the apps were available at no cost, able to translate at least one of the top 10 languages spoken in Australia, and available for use on iPad. Apps that met inclusion criteria were reviewed in 2 stages. Stage 1 was the feature analysis conducted by 2 independent researchers, where apps were evaluated for offline use, input and output methods, and number of languages. Stage 2 was the analysis of suitability for everyday communication in the health care setting, conducted by 2 independent professionals with expertise in translation and cross-cultural communication. Apps that enabled key aspects of care normally within the realm of professional interpreters, such as assessment, treatment and discharge planning, and seeking consent for medical treatments, were considered unsuitable. Results: In total, 15 apps were evaluated. Of these, 8 apps contained voice-to-voice and voice-to-text translation options. In addition, 6 apps were restricted to using preset health phrases, whereas 1 app used a combination of free input and preset phrases. However, 5 apps were excluded before stage 2. In addition, 6 of the 10 remaining apps reviewed in stage 2 were specifically designed for health care translation purposes. Of these, 2 apps were rated as suitable for everyday communication in the health care setting—culturally and linguistically diverse Assist and Talk To Me. Both apps contained simple and appropriate preset health phrases and did not contain conversations that are normally within the realm of professional interpreters. Conclusions: All iPad-compatible translation apps require a degree of caution and consideration when used in health care settings, and none should replace professional interpreters. However, some apps may be suitable for everyday conversations, such as those that enable preset phrases to be translated on subject matters that do not require a professional interpreter. Further research into the use of translation technology for these types of conversations is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11316
Number of pages11
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Health care
  • Language
  • Technology

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