Service jumps language barriers

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, May 24, 2018

Aida Bonilla, 72, came to Suffolk to spend her time with her daughters, Anibel Ortiz, a Suffolk resident, and Iris Ortiz Bonilla. But she suffered a medical emergency last Friday that brought her to Sentara Obici Hospital for treatment.

When she was admitted, Bonilla and her daughters faced another hurdle: they spoke very little English, with the elder Bonilla having “absolutely no knowledge of English whatsoever,” according to her daughter, Iris Ortiz Bonilla.

Communication between the Spanish-speaking family and hospital staff was mediated by Patrick Picacho, a certified medical interpreter who spoke to the family and physicians through a video broadcast from Columbus, Ohio, via a Martti device that once again proved to be indispensable.


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“My mother arrived at a very critical health stage,” Iris Ortiz Bonilla said Tuesday, as interpreted by Picacho, whose live video feed came through a Martti device attached to a rolling stand. “The fact that we were able to connect with an interpreter as fast as we did was extremely helpful. It helped her get a better understanding of what was happening so she could spend the rest of the day more comfortable.”

Martti, or “My Accessible Real Time Trusted Interpreter,” is a system that provides hospitals and medical institutions on-demand access to certified medical interpreters. The company was founded as Language Access Network in 2003 and rebranded its services under Martti in 2017.

Language and cultural barriers are bypassed through video remote and over-the-phone interpreting services. Martti devices help deaf and hard of hearing patients, and more than 250 languages can be interpreted over the phone, along with more than 60 through video feeds, according to

“Visual contact between a patient and his or her interpreter is the foundation for trust, which is how we like every interaction to begin,” reads “Seventy percent of communication is non-verbal, and reading body language is an important part of the health care experience.”

There are three Martti devices at Sentara Obici Hospital that are used daily, and two more are expected to be available at the hospital in the next 30 to 60 days, according Manager of Professional Practice Debbie McDermott. The three most common languages interpreted are Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog, a native language of the Philippines.

Video was used strictly for American Sign Language patients at first, but eventually most languages were transitioned over to video interpretation, McDermott said. The services have been invaluable for everything from admissions to consent forms and discharge instructions.

“We want to make sure that the we follow the patient’s preferences for their treatment and capture their descriptions of their symptoms,” she said.

In less than a minute, patients and family members are able to connect with an interpreter who understands the exact terminology for medicine and technology that will be used for treatment and how to communicate that in someone’s specific language and culture.

“You have to understand how people from different areas of the world receive information, what things are difficult to say or taboo,” Picacho said. “It’s very important to have that training in order to be able to assist them.”

Interpreters like Picacho are able to read body language, which helps them understand if a patient or family member is nervous or shy in their responses. It also helps for foreign language speakers to see a friendly face instead of just listening to a voice over the phone.

“It was refreshing to see somebody on screen,” Iris Ortiz Bonilla said via interpretation. “Having somebody not only listen to what we’re saying but also see gave us that extra layer of comfort and trust.”

Aida Bonilla was in good spirits on Tuesday and grateful for Picacho’s services.

“I’d just like to thank him for everything,” she said.

Anibel Ortiz said the Martti device is what made it possible for her mother to get the help she needed. The daughter also wanted to take the device wherever she goes.

“I could just carry all the equipment in my purse,” she laughed.