New app lets patients speak

Last updated 05:00 05/06/2014
Janet Liang
Sarah Argyle
COMMUNICATION KEY: Dr Janet Liang has developed an app to help breakdown communication barriers between patients and doctors.

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Medical emergencies are stressful enough without language barriers getting in the way.

So when the opportunity arose for Dr Janet Liang to break down those barriers she jumped at the chance.

The doctor has developed a new app aimed at improving the way patients with limited English and medical staff communicate with each other.

Liang is an intensive care specialist at North Shore Hospital and has spent the last few years perfecting Listen Please.

The app is available in the five main non-English languages in the Waitemata district - Samoan, Tongan, Cantonese, Korean and Mandarin.

She says the app is inspired by her observations about how to communicate with patients who don't understand a lot of English.

It's not compassionate to perform medical treatment without someone fully understanding what will happen next, she says.

"This app is in aid of making life better for people."

Liang says translators do a fantastic job but it is unrealistic to expect them to be available all the time.

"The app allows clinicians to ask simple questions that would be covered in a standard consultation such as ‘are you in any pain?' or ‘where do you feel pain?' while patients can also communicate with medical staff."

Liang says the app is easy to use, visually driven and unlike other apps has illustrations and photos to improve communication.

"As it is a stand alone app it does not need internet access to work and I see it being useful in both hospital and primary care settings.

"Auckland in particular is a multicultural society. I am Chinese myself but I can't speak enough Chinese to communicate to patients who only speak Chinese."

She says the app is going to be a great tool for clinicians and patients alike but it will never take place of informed consent.

"Context is very important and this app can never replace an in-depth conversation with a patient."

Liang won the Health Informatics New Zealand Clinician's Challenge prize in 2011 with her Listen Please concept.

The Clinicians' Challenge is an opportunity for clinicians and IT companies to team up, identify and develop information technology solutions for the medical world. Thanks to the win Liang was able to bring Listen Please to life. Go to iTunes to buy the $12.99 app.

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- North Shore Times

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