Mat Johnson worked with high technology innovators before and was a specialist in communication theory. What challenged him was to find a way to address the humanitarian need for medical interpreters in critical care situations. His solution, a handheld 100 language-speaking medical translation device called the Phrazer.
Phrazer demonstration: Amanda Hansmeyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Johnson, whose interactive touchscreen device is more about communicating symptoms and diagnosis through images and phrasing familiar to the patient than word-for-word translation, started out with his concept in 2007, when he formed GeaCom, Inc. to support his invention and his business model. He began the process of inviting friends and family to contribute to his idea and was successful at developing a prototype that he could demonstrate at the National Public Health Conference in 2008. The Best in Show award did not hurt him in getting 'angels' and members of the medical and scientific communities involved, especially in the Duluth, MN area, where Johnson lives.
A second, higher functioning prototype, the Phrazer - Bulldog, was developed in early 2010, and it has been the platform for testing at 10 major medical institutions throughout the U.S.. Central and South America, India, and in countries such as Kuwait, Afghanistan, Cameroon, and Sweden.
The Phrazer expanded: © GeaCom via sanquineintl.com
The Phrazer, which will be available for institutional sales this year, doesn't just take the place of hospital interpreters, expected to save hospitals considerable funds now spent on medical interpreters (more job cuts, I'm afraid), but is expected to save medical personnel a considerable amount of time, while attending to patients; for example, an emergency patient.
Knowing where something hurts may be easy to understand through gestures, but the nature of the pain (Is it a burning sensation? Is it sharp? Dull? etc.) is just as important, and these concepts can be communicated easily and directly with the Phrazer's image and verbal descriptions in the patient's own language.
Phrazer's translates in images and native language: image via Sanguine International, LLC
The Phrazer is immediate. Emergency personnel, rescuing survivors of an earthquake, for example, cannot wait for an interpreter who happens to speak Bodo and Hindi, two of 22 languages spoken in India, nor does a hospital necessarily have access to every particular language translator.
Even when a language is commonly spoken in a country, such as Spanish is in the U.S.,, a professional interpreter may not be available to translate at a particular time and place. Often, if someone who happens to know 'some' Spanish is in the vicinity, he or she is asked to facilitate the communication process between medical staff and patient. Language and cultural barriers may be as likely magnified in these situations, rather than reduced.
But the Phrazer can uniquely use the language of the medical practitioner and the language of the patient together, allowing them to communicate the basic, necessary information to each other. Right now, that will be limited to 100 languages, but hey, that's a great start!
sources: Phrazer, Sanquine International, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)