Is Technology in My Job Description? Managing the Tech Devices and Installations Needed for Language Support

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Did you ever wrestle with one of these questions on tech devices:

Is it best to own or rent equipment?

What configurations of phones, tablets, or laptops fit the needs?

Is it feasible to install video/phone booths for staff interpreters?

What are the financial and control trade-offs between using in-house tech support and third-party tech support?

Is it preferable to connect with remote agency language providers via internet or via dedicated cable connections?

Should internet-dependent devices be handheld or supported on full WOWs for stability and theft-prevention?

For those devices which are home-based out on the clinical units, how can they be protected from disappearing completely, migrating to other departments, getting broken, and being left un-charged?

Many language access program managers have a background in language support or patient access. Few have experience with configuring or managing communication technology. Here are some guiding notes on how to not get overwhelmed with technical responsibilities which extend well past those of most other health system managers.

Think about it—most health unit manager colleagues have IT to deal with computers, Informatics to make sure they get the data they need, Teleservices to install and maintain their phones, and Engineering to deal with patient medical equipment and patient furniture. But when the Language Access Program Manager asks for help with contracted services or any technology that no other department uses, often the response is that she or he needs to take care of that on their own.

The best practice to build a functional language service is to start with the vision of what language support would look like in your institution if it was possible to get it done, and then work back from there. Technology is changing rapidly, so what looks impossible to install or manage today may be possible to implement tomorrow. Make a three-year plan of the many technical pieces of language support for the organization, and keep it updated.

Here are some of the pieces:

Create strategic connections with the directors of Facilities, Teleservices, Health Informatics, IT, Clinical Quality Improvement, Patient Access or Patient Relations, and Clinical Engineering. Also create relationships with the clinical unit managers where patient care takes place, so that you can implement specific technical solutions for language support in their clinical environments. If there are building projects in your organization, join the committee so that you have input on emplacing phone jacks, computer relay points, and storage space for WOWs. Not only will you be able to educate all of these colleagues about language support needs, but you will learn about technology used in the organization and will become able to interact with the technology professionals on an equal footing. Physically visit every care environment and look at what tech works there.

The role of the language access program is particularly demanding with respect to technology management because the devices and technology needed for language support varies greatly between different clinical environments. Outpatient exam rooms will support certain types of phones and computers and will not support others. Radiology departments have MANY specific types of environments. Then there are specialized areas such as Cardiac Cath, Interventional Radiology, the Physical Therapy gym, Labor and Delivery, Ambulatory Surgery, Infusion, ER, Pharmacy, NICU, ICU, Surgical Prep and PACU, inpatient mental health, the Admitting Office, patient classrooms, and group mental health therapy rooms. The Ophthalmology Clinic has special needs for language support to follow a patient seamlessly from room to room as different measurement equipment is used, and OTO has the Audiology booths which may not yet have any way to get phone or internet signals into them.

It is often necessary to use different technology and different resources to provide solid language support across all of these environments. This creates the separate challenge of educating one’s Director and the Purchasing Department to secure all of the required contracts for resources.

One of the most valuable resources to assist in building the necessary technology throughout the organization is one’s peers in other organizations who have already tried many different solutions. It is worth touching base with other language access managers once a month so that everyone can share ideas. This can prevent costly contracts with vendors who cannot perform and provide a source of knowledge about developments in the field. It is great to be able to ask peers how they manage their tablets, or what their theft rate is for Pocket Talkers, or whether they have trouble with signal dropping in the PACU like you do.

To summarize, technology is a huge part of the daily life of today’s language program manager. So study up, make lots of strategic connections, and keep track of all of your many plans and solutions over time. Share these plans with your boss and with all of the key stakeholders so that, once you educate them, they can act as advocates for your program.

What has been instrumental in helping you manage the technical components of languages access? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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