Today, patients in many locations have the opportunity to access their medical records online. The main purpose to providing this information is to promote participation in the care of oneself. A plus is that it also reduces the time a physician must spend on simple information sharing, freeing up time to focus on more specialized skills. One problem is of course that understanding the medical jargon in records can be a challenge, even for professional caregivers. Since time immemorial doctors kept essential notes, intended to be read only by themselves and their colleagues. But with electronic records in the hands of non-specialists, ensuring no misunderstandings becomes very important.

There is now a project set out to ease the risk of miscommunication: Bridging the Language Gap: Creating a Platform for Patient-professional Communication. The project is being financed through Nordic Innovation, an organization under the Nordic Council of Ministers, acting on behalf of the five Nordic innovation agencies including Swedish Vinnova. The three companies involved in this multilingual initiative are Interverbum Technology (Sweden), Lingsoft (Finland) and Copenhagen Translation (Denmark). There is also a reference group including specialists, patient organizations, communicators and other stakeholders from all five Nordic countries.

The resulting development will be an application that ‘translates’ – or rather explains – the difficult words of a medical record into the plain language of choice, including colloquial Northern Sami, Arabic, Somali, and Tigrinya. This is done in a web interface showing an individual’s medical record. By clicking a difficult term, an explanation will appear in a column on the side. Feedback from various test groups should guarantee robust content and user friendliness. The application will permit patient versions of any type of medical information – regardless of specialty and language – although the current pilot is focused on records related to ‘heart attack’ in the five Nordic languages and English. The interface will be accessible in all types of electronic media, especially mobile devices.

The project is still looking for reference group members who are passionate about improving digital communications between professionals and patients, particularly in the heart field.

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