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Designing an App to Overcome Language Barriers in the Delivery of Emergency Medical Services: Participatory Development Process

  • Noack, Eva Maria1
  • Schulze, Jennifer1
  • Müller, Frank1
  • 1 University Medical Center Göttingen, Göttingen , (Germany)
Published Article
JMIR mHealth and uHealth
JMIR Publications
Publication Date
Apr 14, 2021
DOI: 10.2196/21586
PMID: 33851933
PMCID: PMC8082383
PubMed Central
  • Original Paper
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Background In emergencies, language barriers may have dangerous consequences for the patients. There have been some technical approaches to overcome language barriers in medical care but not yet in the prehospital emergency care setting. The use of digital technologies in health care is expanding rapidly. Involving end users at all stages of the development process may help to ensure such technologies are usable and can be implemented. Objective We aimed to develop a digital communication tool that addresses paramedic needs in the specific circumstances of prehospital emergency care and helps paramedics to overcome language barriers when providing care to foreign-language patients. Methods We actively engaged paramedics and software designers in an action-oriented, participatory, iterative development process, which included field observations, workshops, background conversations, questionnaires on rescue missions, studying the literature, and preliminary testing in the field. Results With input from paramedics, we created an app with 600 fixed phrases supporting 18 languages. The app includes medical history–taking questions, phrases asking for consent, and phrases providing specific additional information. Children as patients, as well as their carers and other third parties, can be addressed with appropriate wording. All phrases can be played back audibly or displayed as text. The comprehensive content is grouped into categories and adapted to diverse scenarios, which makes the tool rapidly usable. The app includes a function to document patient responses and the conversation history. For evaluation in a clinical study, the app is run on a smartphone with extra speakers to be of use in noisy environments. The use of prototypes proved valuable to verify that the content, structure, and functions discussed in theory were of value and genuinely needed in practice and that the various device control elements were intuitive. Conclusions The nature of the paramedic work environment places specific demands on the communication options used and need for such devices. The active involvement of paramedics in the development process allowed us to understand and subsequently consider their experience-based knowledge. Software designers could understand the paramedics’ work environment and consider respective needs in the menu navigation and design principles of the app. We argue that the development of any medical software product should actively involve both end users and developers in all phases of the development process. Providing the users with the opportunity to influence technology development ensures that the result is closer to their needs, which can be seen as crucial for successful implementation and sustainable use. Trial Registration German Clinical Trials Register DRKS00016719; International Registered Report Identifier (IRRID) RR2-10.1186/s12913-020-05098-5

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