The Health Ministry has opened an experimental, simultaneous, medical translation service that will link doctors, nurses, social workers and patients who speak Arabic, Russian and Amharic.

The pilot service, available 24 hours a day except for Shabbat and holidays, will initially be in a limited number of departments at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, in some units of Kupat Holim Meuhedet and in a number of the Health Ministry’s family health centers (tipot halav) in Ramle.

The patients themselves will not call the service, but hospital personnel will be intermediaries who will dial the translation service and contact native speakers of the language needed. If proven successful, the service will be expanded to outpatient clinics, inpatient departments and other parts of hospitals and community clinics around the country.

The ministry will not provide the phone number to patients or allow them to call from home.

“We are trying to develop tools that will give greater accessibility to people who don’t speak Hebrew [or English],” said the ministry’s Nir Kedar, who is developing the service.

The translators have undergone a special course with medical translation experts and have been provided with basic medical dictionaries in their native tongue that they can use to translate from and into Hebrew.

Kedar would not say when the service will be fully expanded to medical facilities around the country.

According to a social survey conducted in 2011 by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 17 percent of those who do not speak fluent Hebrew have difficulty receiving medical services. Among people aged 65 and older, the rate of difficulty due to language barriers reached 23 percent.

Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that failure to provide translation when a patient needs it or translation by an adult – or even a child – who is not trained for it is unacceptable.

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