Overcoming language barriers for radiotherapy patients with an instant translation device: A feasibility study

Mr Darren Hunter1

1Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia, 2Monash University, Clayton, Australia


This study sought to determine the validity and accuracy of an instant translation device (ITD) to aid daily communication between radiation therapists (RTs) and Mandarin-speaking patients.

Two Mandarin-speaking interpreters and six RTs were recruited to the study. One hundred and eighty eight common radiotherapy phrases were compiled by the study investigators and independently translated to Chinese (simplified) by the interpreters blinded to each other. Medical terminology was omitted from the study as it was deemed outside of the intended scope of practice. The RTs read these phrases verbatim into the ITD, allowing the interpreters to record the Mandarin output. A scale of 0-4 was afforded by the interpreters; a score of 4 indicated agreement, and 0 was incoherent. An average score of >3 (>75%) indicated satisfactory translation.

Preliminary findings suggest a strong agreement between the true Mandarin translation and the device output across conversational language (78.3%), common enquiries (84.9%) and simple identifiers (86.2%). Treatment instructions scored a compliance of 61.7% – largely influenced by colloquialisms and slang terms that were rarely accurate.

Significance of the findings to allied health:
An ITD is a useful tool to improve radiotherapy communication. Stage 2 of this study will investigate patient and staff satisfaction with the ITD. We anticipate this will allow for more effective engagement and management of care within the radiotherapy department. Further research could investigate expansion across multiple languages, and broader health applications.


Darren Hunter is a Deputy Charge Radiation Therapist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. With 9 years clinical experience spanning regional and metropolitan Victoria as well as experience abroad, Darren holds a strong interest in improving patient care within radiation therapy services. Darren’s research has specifically enquired upon complementary therapies, integrative oncology and more recently, cultural and linguistic diversity.