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High demand and positive feedback spurs expansion of virtual interpreting service across three health authorities

A video remote interpreter service launched by Provincial Language Service in December is set to give even more patients with limited English proficiency better access to care.
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​Pulkit Mahajan, James Sidney and Samuel See, radiation therapists at the BC Cancer - Surrey radiation therapy clinic with the VRI device.

In 2019, the Provincial Language Service (PLS), which provides interpreting and translation services to B.C. health authorities and private physician offices, received 164,914 requests for interpreting services. In one year, that works out to roughly 451 requests a day! Ninety-three per cent of those requests came from entities in the Lower Mainland. 

Requests for translation services come from health authorities across B.C. as well as Ministries and Divisions of Family Practice. Language barriers can cause a number of challenges during a medical appointment and can lead to frustration for patients and providers, as well as confusion with care plans.

A project to test virtual interpreting technology

PLS collaborated with the Office of Virtual Health to launch a Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) project at BC Cancer - Vancouver in December. A tablet mounted on an adjustable rolling stand enables clinicians and patients to speak with an interpreter on a live video call during a medical appointment. The service provides access to 40 languages using the video feature and 240 languages through audio.

Spurred by positive feedback from patients and clinicians, the VRI project is now being expanded to additional locations across the Lower Mainland.

“We are committed to ensuring language isn’t a barrier to receiving access to care, and in that spirit we are thrilled to provide this service at more clinics in Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and PHSA,” said Kiran Malli, director of PLS. 

One of the recent clinics to introduce VRI is the Radiation Therapy Clinic at BC Cancer - Surrey. As chief radiation therapist at BC Cancer - Surrey, Craig Elith works directly with patients who have challenges with English. 

“I think it’s great to see a simple to use, everyday communication tool be adapted in the health care setting,” said Craig. “I expect the interpreting device to have a positive impact on the patient care experience of non-English speaking patients. All staff had a positive response to the device during the introduction and education sessions. The radiation therapy staff are genuinely excited to start using it.”

Look for VRI at the following locations


  • BC Cancer – Vancouver - Dentistry
  • BC Cancer – Surrey - Radiation Therapy Clinic
  • BC Cancer – Surrey - Pharmacy Consult
  • BC Cancer – Surrey - Patient Review
Fraser Health 

  • Surrey Memorial Hospital – Family Birthing Unit
  • Surrey Memorial Hospital - High Acuity Unit and Intensive Care Unit
Vancouver Coastal Health 

  • VGH Seniors' Inpatient Unit
  • VGH Cardiac Cath lab
  • VGH Emergency Department 

A collaboration across health authorities

The VRI service is provided through a project that is testing virtual interpreting technology with the potential of adoption on a permanent basis. A collaboration with PHSA’s Provincial Language Service, the Office of Virtual Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health, the project aims to provide the patient with better access to care by improving the timeliness of interpreting services and enhance communication between clinicians and their patients who have a language barrier. 

For more information about the virtual health demonstration project, or if you think video remote interpreters could be a good fit for your setting, please contact the Office of Virtual Health or the Provincial Language Service.  

The Office of Virtual Health leads and provides strategic direction for the overall Virtual Health initiative across PHSA.  

The Provincial Language Service provides interpreting and translation services to BC health authorities and private physician offices. The video remote interpreter augments PLS’ other interpreter offerings, which include in-person and over-the-phone interpreting. 
BC Cancer; Office of Virtual Health; Provincial Language Services
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