Ensuring medical safety in sea rescue operations

Communicating critical information and assessing medical needs at sea can be extra challenging when language barriers are present. This is how the medical team at Sea-Eye use Care to Translate to talk to their patients on missions.

Sea rescue organizations operate in environments where language barriers pose significant challenges. When responding to distress calls from boats stranded at sea, these organizations encounter individuals from diverse nationalities and linguistic backgrounds. Communicating critical information, assessing medical needs, and providing assistance can be extra challenging when there is a lack of mutual understanding due to language barriers.

In such high-stress and time-sensitive situations, effective communication is critical for ensuring the safety of rescued individuals. Consequently, sea rescue organizations are actively seeking innovative solutions to overcome language barriers and ensure efficient and effective communication during rescue operations.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr Thomas Herr, Team Lead of the medical team at Sea-Eye, a civil sea rescue organization which operates in the Mediterranean Sea, mainly rescuing refugee boats coming from Libya. He had just returned from a mission and described his experience using the Care to Translate app with his patients: “I just used it in our last rotation and for me it was a really good experience because I really felt like it's a very quick way to ask the questions you always ask”.

“Probably the most advanced app for the medical fields”

Approximately two years ago, Dr Herr was looking for a digital solution for medical translation to address the language barriers that he and his colleagues encountered on board. He came across Care to Translate, and a partnership was established. Having utilized the app on multiple rotations, Dr Herr emphasized its reliability, stating:

“I think it's probably the most advanced app for the medical fields, I haven’t found a better one.”

What instills confidence in him while using the app with patients is the verification of translations in each language by native-speaking medical professionals. This ensures accuracy and medical safety, a reassurance lacking in machine-generated translations: “I personally really like that you use medical professionals from that country, and you really can be sure that the translation is right and it's not some computer-generated thing that you can never be sure if it's really what you wanted to say”, he said. 

Ensuring equal treatment when translating sensitive information

Dr Herr also pointed out how helpful the app is when an interpreter isn’t available or in those situations that are extremely sensitive, such as when patients are recounting their experiences of violence and abuse, which are regrettably too frequent. In such situations, using a translator can be problematic:

“I see a bit of a problem in our field because we're dealing of course with confidential information and also this gives a lot of power to the translating person. And on our ship, we always try to treat everyone equally.”

Recognizing the power dynamics involved in translation, especially concerning confidentiality, Sea-Eye staff opted for Care to Translate to ensure equal treatment for all patients, regardless of the language they speak.

Another reason why Care to Translate has proven to be an ideal solution for Sea-Eye resides in the offline functionality of the app.  Given their previously expensive and unreliable internet connection, Sea-Eye particularly valued this feature which allowed the crew to download app content, overcoming connectivity issues during missions.

A tailored experience to optimize the work at sea

The Sea-Eye medical team recurrently utilizes the app during medical check-ups, as they often rescue large numbers of patients simultaneously. Therefore, having a playlist with standardized questions that are routinely asked makes work easier and quicker for the crew.

“During medical check-ups, most of the time we ask the same questions, so we created a playlist for that which was really fast and helpful. The patients could also really understand what we meant. I think probably because it's not a computer voice” Dr Herr said, underscoring how patients particularly appreciate the audio recordings available in the app.

Other playlists that are frequently used during rescue missions are those related to pain, sea sickness and skin problems, as these are vastly common with people on board. Creating personalized playlists is a great way to optimize one’s work. In this regard, Dr Herr highlighted how important it is to acquire familiarity with the app and to really know one’s own playlists in order to swiftly implement them in the work routine.

He also mentioned that the app is quite self-explanatory, and how easy it is to manage playlists: “It was also really easy to add phrases to the playlists – when I realize that a certain question is coming up again and again, I just quickly add it to the playlist”.

Overall, Care to Translate has proven to be a valuable tool in Sea-Eye’s rescue missions, and we at Care to Translate are immensely proud to support Sea-Eye in their commendable endeavors. 

Care to Translate for non-profits

If you're interested in learning more about how we at Care to Translate support non-profit organizations, please read more here. You can also read our blog post on how language barriers can compromise the primary mission for non-profit organizations.