New translation app interprets COVID-19 screening information for non-English speakers

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday November 23, 2020

The CSIRO and Victorian health service Western Health have developed a free mobile app that aims to support health workers involved in COVID-19 screening processes when assisting patients from non-English speaking communities.

With the support of the Victorian government, the app was developed in 2017 to help patients from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds communicate with patients and healthcare workers including nurses, dietitians, speech pathologists, podiatrists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

A new update to CALD Assist allows non-English speakers to be asked COVID-19 screening questions, such as ‘Have you returned to Australia from overseas in the past four weeks?’, where interpreters are unavailable. It also provides key information to CALD patients, including that they must self-isolate following a COVID-19 test until they receive their result.

Western Health’s Infectious Diseases, speech pathology and interpreting teams have composed, translated and given voice to the COVID-19 questions on the app.

The app has been trialled with allied health clinicians and nursing staff to ensure its clinical value, according to CSIRO’s Australian eHealth Research Centre deputy director Dr Jill Freyne.

“Supporting CALD communities through the pandemic is an important part of the public health response,” Freyne said.

“The beauty of the app is that is can be used in different settings including hospital patients and visitors and in COVID-19 testing centres. Patients also have the flexibility to choose whether to read or listen to the screening questions.”

The CALD Assist app features more than 200 commonly used phrases translated into 10 languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Croatian, Greek, Italian, Macedonian, Mandarin, Serbian, Spanish and Vietnamese. It also offers images, video and pre-recorded audio.


Read more: Home Affairs used Google Translate for COVID-19 advice to multicultural communities


Western Health executive director operations Natasha Toohey noted that clear communication is vital to providing quality health care at all times, not only during a pandemic.

“Western Health is very proud of the CALD Assist app and its success in helping facilitate communication with people from non-English speaking communities, and we’re thrilled it is now equipped to guide them through the COVID-19 screening process,” she said.

Victorian health minister Martin Foley congratulated Western Health and CSIRO for innovating through the pandemic and finding new ways to support CALD patients.

“Western Health and all our health services have done amazing work responding to this global pandemic and evolving how they care for and engage with patients,” he said.

“This app is already supporting patients and will now complement the work of translators in ensuring vital information about a person’s likelihood of coronavirus infection reaches our healthcare workers fast.”

The app has been designed for use by all health professionals involved with COVID-19 screening, and is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

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