September 2, 2020

TALS team: interpreting during a pandemic

Northern Health has a very broad culturally and linguistically diverse patient population. Many of our patients have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in the health context, and our excellent Transcultural & Language Services (TALS) department, with 37 in-house interpreters, covers our most in-demand languages.

Northern Health’s TALS team is the biggest in-house hospital language service team in Victoria. In these pandemic times, they are one of many non-clinical teams at Northern Health that had to quickly adapt to changes in their everyday work, while maintaining high levels of professional service to patients and clinicians.

Yue Hu, Manager, Transcultural & Language Services, explained the major change for the TALS team was the shift from face to face appointments to telehealth and phone and video appointments.

“When it all began in March, our team quickly responded by creating a work flow plan and sending it out to all clinical leads, as a guide on how to use TALS as a contact centre for patients when they wish to access the interpreting service,” she said.

The team soon realised they needed to upgrade the phone systems and become a genuine call centre. Clinicians who are now calling for their services are put in the queue and, every day, the team has at least three staff members answering the phone calls.

“The feedback has been great, and has reduced the stress of our staff members in coping with such a large amount of phone calls. As all the clinics are still running, the team is still very busy. Since the beginning of COVID-19, 63 per cent of the interpreting requests have been completed over the phone,” Yue explained.

The phone interpreting has allowed the team members to be able to easily work from home, and manage the workload.

David Le, Vietnamese Interpreter, added the team is also accepting video interpreting requests.

“We are slowly rolling out video interpreting across the health service. Our interpreters are still doing additional training on video interpreting, so that they are comfortable with using the system and booking appointments. We are still doing face to face appointments, when needed. It can happen that in one day we do face to face, phone and video,” he explained.

TALS staff are continuously rotating to ensure there is enough coverage on site for face to face appointments and areas like ED and ICU.

“The change has had some challenges, as interpreters find phone appointments very convenient when working from home, but still miss the face to face conversations, and actually seeing the patient and clinician, as the communication isn’t just verbal, there are a lot of visual cues that help with our job,” David explained.

“Our staff learned a lot of new skills very quickly – we’ve never been a call centre and we had to learn how to handle the increased amount of calls, along with the video training. PPE training is another skill that staff had to pick up quickly and become confident in donning and doffing PPE,” he added.

Stefania Zen, Manager, Transcultural & Language Services, added that besides interpreting, the team has also been working on translating COVID-19 related documents, completing a lot of urgent translations into different languages, especially when it comes to COVID-19 patient screening, as well as working on lengthy documents like the new Welcome Pack for patients.

“There are always new requests for translation coming in and often they need to be completed within a very short time frame,” she said.

The team has responded promptly to the increase in demand for translations, and are also contributing to several quality improvement projects during this time.

Featured image (left to right): Aygul Olcer, Lambrine Maniatis, Navneet Gill, David Le and Yue Hu.