Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination–Persons with Limited-English Proficiency) requires any health care facility that receives federal funding to provide bilingual or interpreter services to patients who don’t speak English. Even in facilities where linguistically competent services aren’t mandated by law, a health care provider’s ability or inability to communicate with a non-English-speaking patient can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Traditionally, hospitals and clinics have used a variety of tools to help them provide linguistically competent care, such as bilingual staff, translation services, interpreters and foreign language training. Now, linguistic competence has entered the 21st century with the arrival of Virtual Conversations® Medical Spanish. Developed by Interactive Drama Inc. (IDI), a company that designs and produces voice-activated interactive video simulations for experiential learning, this virtual reality computer program lets health professionals practice conducting a complete clinical interview in Spanish with a “real” Hispanic patient who speaks no English.

Medical Spanish utilizes a two-part teaching process. First, an on-screen tutor (a Hispanic physician) helps users learn the vocabulary and phrases they will use to interview the patient. Speaking into a directional microphone that attaches to their computer, users can practice pronouncing the words and phrases, and can record and play back what they’ve said. The interactive program evaluates their pronunciation and can also instantly compare their pronunciation with the tutor’s for self-evaluation.

Once users are comfortable with speaking and understanding the phrases, they can practice conducting a face-to-face dialogue with the virtual patient, entirely in Spanish. The goal is to get to know the patient and learn her complete medical history. The program prompts users with questions in Spanish to help them get the information they need and to understand the patient when she answers in Spanish. The interview can last for over an hour and can be conducted, in whole or in part, again and again. The virtual reality technology ensures that the flow of every interview is different.

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According to IDI spokesperson Marcia Zier, the product can be used by people who already know some Spanish and by people with no prior knowledge of the language. “It’s like an instant immersion experience in medical Spanish,” she told Minority Nurse. “There’s no grammar learning involved. It lets you learn the language in a very natural way.”

Virtual Conversations Medical Spanish sells for $89.95; the price includes the software program plus the microphone. To order, or for additional information, contact IDI at (301) 654-0676 or visit http://idrama.com/medspan_LP.htm.

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