B.C. paramedic aims to save lives with multi-language translation book

James Shearer has launched the Emergency Medical Translator – which he calls one of the first tools designed specifically for emergency environments

With thousands of non-English-speaking people living in B.C., the need for a paramedic to respond to a health emergency can quickly become riddled with barriers if they can’t communicate with the patient.

Which is why a B.C. paramedic is hoping a pocket-sized translation book will bridge the language gap — and it’s also leaving some asking why such a tool was never thought of before.

James Shearer, a paramedic on the Sunshine Coast, launched the Emergency Medical Translator this week – that he calls one of the first tools designed specifically for emergency environments. Shearer explained the idea was sparked after noticing how language plays a key role on the job.

“It certainly come up regularly because any paramedic or first-responder begins an assessment by engaging with a patient,” he said. “If that isn’t possible because of a language barrier that certainly changes the way we have to approach the call.”

The plastic booklet can fit into a uniform shirt pocket and contains nine languages: Punjabi, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Korean, Farsi, Spanish, Arabic, French, Hindi, and Vietnamese.

It also includes symbols and diagrams to help with further clarification including level of pain, specific symptoms and body parts.

“The first thing I did was approach it from a paramedic standpoint,” Shearer said. “What are the typical questions I would want to know when helping a patient.”

Other factors he considered while creating the prototype was ensuring the book was light-weight but concise, and one that can be used in all kinds of medical emergencies.

“One size fits all is never realistic in pre-hospital [response],” he said. From field-testing by colleagues, and by using it himself, Shearer added that feedback has been positive so far.

Since launching the translator on Oct.30, its received almost 45 per cent of the $9,500 funding goal – a pretty good sign in Shearer’s books.

The idea of the book is to point to words instead of pronouncing them. (Submitted)

“I think the feedback falls into one of two camps: non-medical people seeing this and saying ‘how doesn’t this already exist?’ But, I think there’s still lot’s of inventions for us to come up with,” he said.

The province nor BC Emergency Health Services has contacted Shearer, who is working to get his translator into the hands of paramedics across the country and beyond. But first responders are showing plenty of interest online, with many going out of pocket to pre-purchase the book.

Shearer said that speaks to the passion paramedics everywhere have when it comes to doing their job the best they can.

“We must advocate for their patients and their care, and we can only do that if we understand,” he said.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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