I recently started to think about some of the implications associated with multiple languages in an EHR. One of my readers asked me how EHR vendors correlated data from those charting in Spanish and those charting in English. My first response to this question was, “How many doctors chart in Spanish?” Yes, this was a very US centric response since obviously I know that almost all of the doctors in Latin America and other Spanish speaking countries chart in Spanish, but I wonder how many doctors in the US chart in Spanish. I expect the answer is A LOT more than I realize.
Partial evidence of this is that about a year ago HIMSS announced a Latino Health IT Initiative. From that today there is now a HIMSS Latino Community web page and also a HIMSS Latino Community Workshop at the HIMSS Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I’m going to have to find some time to try and learn more about the HIMSS Latino Community. My Espanol is terrible, but I know enough that I think I could enjoy the event.
After my initial reaction, I then started wondering how you would correlate data from another language. So, much for coordinated care. I wonder what a doctor does if he asks for his patient’s record and it is all in Spanish. That’s great if all of your doctors know Spanish, but in the US at least I don’t know of any community that has doctors who know Spanish in every specialty. How do they get around it? I don’t think those translation services you can call are much help.
Once we start talking about automated patient records the language issue becomes more of a problem. Although, maybe part of that problem is solved if you use could standards like ICD-10, SNOMED, etc. A code is a code is a code regardless of what language it is and computers are great at matching up those codes. Although, if these standards are not used, then forget trying to connect the data even through Natural Language Processing (NLP). Sure the NLP could be bi-lingual, but has anyone done that? My guess is not.
All of this might start to really matter more when we’re talking about public health issues as we aggregate data internationally. Language becomes a much larger issue in this context and so it begs for an established set of standards for easy comparison.
I’d be interested to hear about other stories and experiences with EHR charting in Spanish or another language. I bet the open source EHR have some interesting solutions similar to the open source projects I know well. I look forward to learning more about the challenge of multiple languages.