Feature Story

Language doesn't have to be a barrier in healthcare

Thanks to technology, interpreters at one German hospital are just a click away.

Written by: Anton Doeschl

Language barriers can be a big concern in healthcare, where diagnoses and treatments are defined and agreed on after talks between doctors and patients. Immigrants are often at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing healthcare services. Language barriers compromise patients’ understanding of their disease and their treatment advice, increase the risk of complications, and make it harder for doctors to understand symptoms. That also increases the possibility of wrong diagnoses, which may lead to inadequate therapy and treatment. As a consequence, the patients' suffering is prolonged and the healthcare system is financially burdened as well.

The challenge for Cisco and its partner SAVD was to develop a high-quality, highly reliable and secure, always available system of remote interpreter services for doctors and hospitals. The system needed to cover languages most frequently spoken by residents who originate from outside of Austria and Germany.

In August 2015, the University Medical Center (UKE) Hamburg-Eppendorf became the first German hospital to use a Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) service. Cisco video conferencing combined with SAVD’s “Videodolmetschen” service allows UKE Hamburg to eliminate time, distance, and language barriers to effective communication between clinicians and their patients. Interpreters are just a click away: doctors select the language and connect to the video call center, bringing interpreters via video into the conversation. With the implementation of this project, UKE plays a leading role in the German and European healthcare system.

The UKE Hamburg was equipped with two mobile Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) devices, one for the children’s department, and the other for the emergency room. The design and technical integration was performed by Cisco partner avodaq, a provider of IT communications and infrastructure solutions. The solution offers full HD video over Wi-Fi and, depending on the application, several hours of power autonomy. The video interpreter service provided by SAVD currently supports 20 languages with more than 500 educated interpreters available within 120 seconds.

20 Languages
500 Educated interpreters
120 Seconds
30 additional languages can be activated within two hours. The service is available via a secure internet connection that complies with data protection laws in Germany.


This flexibility lowers the administrative and financial burden of on-site interpreters. It also allows a quick and accurate diagnosis and positively contributes to successful therapy. Right now, the Video Remote Interpreting service supports almost 400,000 patients a year at UKE Hamburg, and also its 2,400 doctors and 3,100 medical staff.


400k patients
2,400 doctors
3,100 medical staff
In Hamburg, this project is only an example of how the city is ready to become a new “Seatropolis” and a smart, connected community. Embracing the Internet of Everything, Hamburg aims to create a better quality of life for its citizens.