State College, Centre County, Pa. – EMS responders treat patients of all ages, gender, and ethnicity.

And now crews at Mount Nittany Medical Center have a tool to communicate in any language. A portable tablet connects to certified interpreters across the globe, allowing medical staff to communicate with patients who speak a foreign language. It was integrated into the hospital last year and distributed to EMS crews this July. Betsy Rishel, an EMT with Mt. Nittany Health, said she had to use the tablet for a medical call within three days of having it.

She responded to a scene to assist a deaf patient in Snow Shoe Borough. She said initially he seemed stressed trying to communicate with sign language.

“But when he saw that interpreter on the screen, there was a visual relief, Rishel said. Breaking that language barrier, responders could thoroughly pinpoint the medical attention he needed. Kathy Dittmann, Dir. of  Services at Mt. Nittany Health, said utilizing a tool that can video chat for 20 languages and call for 200 is a big help when time is of the essence.

“It can be lifesaving because it’s important that we know the patient has certain condition, a certain allergy, specifically maybe where their pain is or where their injury is,” Dittmann said. She added that the most common languages Mount Nittany Health encounters are: Sign Language, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish. Traditionally live interpreters were used on a case by case basis, but there was never a 24/7 option.

“It makes our job so much easier,” Rishel said. There are plans to distribute three more tablets for EMS responders to take on the road. Rishel and Dittman agree it’s a trend that should spread to other medical outlets. “We are actually helping the patient feel like we care,” Rishel said.