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Video remote interpretation: More bang for your buck

David T. Fetterolf, President, Stratus Video Interpreting
David T. Fetterolf, President, Stratus Video Interpreting

Imagine a patient comes into your hospital emergency room. She is in pain, scared, and needs to talk with a provider immediately – but she doesn’t speak English. What do you do? Relying on the patient’s family or friends is unsafe, and calling in an onsite interpreter can be expensive and time consuming. Communication is the cornerstone of medical care, and without proper language access services, health care providers struggle to care for their patients. Fortunately, recent technological developments have allowed hospital staff to reach interpreters quickly and economically. Saving lives while saving money – who would say no to that? 

As globalization and cultural diversity continue to grow, interpretive tools are more crucial now than ever before. Within the realm of interpretive services, there is an assortment of types and disciplines: onsite interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) and video remote interpreting (VRI). VRI is relatively new to the market. Previously, hospitals had to rely on either expensive and often delayed onsite interpretation, or OPI interpretation, which is cheap and immediate, but doesn’t offer visual cues. VRI connects the patient and provider with an interpreter over a videophone call quickly and at a low rate.

Prior to VRI, many hospitals relied heavily on OPI since it is inexpensive and quick. A patient entering the ER could be on the phone with someone who speaks their language within minutes of arriving, and the hospital wouldn’t have to pay the travel time and session minimums of agency interpreters. VRI works the same way as OPI. It is on-demand and charged by the minute, but now the patient, provider and interpreter experience the added benefit of visual cues.

Non-verbal signals play a vital role in health care interpreting. Tone, body language and emotional intonation all contribute meaningfully to efficient communication. One of VRI’s many advantages is that it marries the benefits of in-person interpretation with the on-demand nature of over the phone interpretation. Instant, mobile and economical – this is the solution the medical world has been waiting for.

At just a few dollars a minute, the price tag associated with VRI is almost always lower than agency interpreters who often charge for travel time and minimums. With VRI, health care providers have the ability to connect with an interpreter at the very moment they need interpretation. As a result, providers only pay for time in which interpretation is actually taking place – allowing them more bang for their buck. A recent analysis of VRI session times and cost were compared to in-person agency sessions and over the phone interpretation within a New York City health system. The analysis found that the average session of in-person interpretation rang in around $117, while the average session of VRI was a fraction of the price – only $35. Projections were run and if this facility elected to shift 80 percent of their in-person interpretation to VRI, they could save $1.3 annually. A 100 percent conversion would save $1.42 million annually. When evaluating session times, the average call length of OPI interpretation carried on for 14.7 minutes while the average call length for VRI interpretation lasted 8.2 minutes. We hypothesize that the added benefit of visual cues makes the calls more efficient, thus saving staff time – a resource that cannot be overlooked.

Based on the cost saving evidence alone, we predict that VRI use will continue to rise in the coming years. As the world grows more diverse, more and more interpretation services will be utilized. If things keep moving at the rate they are now, it looks like half of all health care interpretation will be done over video by 2021. At Stratus Video we are committed to improving lives through better communication, and the evidence shows that VRI offers fantastic communication at an even better price, keeping patients safe and hospitals happy. Imagine that patient again the next time she walks into the ER, injured and scared. The doctor can simply grab an iPad and video call an interpreter. The patient can communicate what she needs verbally and visually at a fraction of what it cost the hospital before. Everybody wins.


onsite interpreting, OPI, over-the-phone interpreting, Stratus Video Interpreting, Video Remote Interpreting, VRI