Mass General uses artificial intelligence to bust imaging language barriers during COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected members of minority communities, leaving some unable to obtain imaging services in a timely fashion. One Boston-based provider, however, is busting these care disparities, with the help of artificial intelligence.

Massachusetts General recently created a free, web-based translator to provide multilingual radiology exam instructions at its imaging sites. During a 63-day pilot period at one location, all non-Spanish-speaking technologists voluntarily switching exclusively to RadTranslate for such patients, experts detailed Jan. 30 in JACR.

The intervention resulted in a statistically significant reduction in variability of appointment duration for patients with limited English proficiency, noted principal investigator Marc Succi, MD, and co-authors.

“The impact of this intervention is significant as its free access allows it to be easily scaled and distributed to regions where interpreter services may be limited,” wrote Succi, with the Department of Radiology at Mass General, adding that the tool can also “reduce strain on a limited resource of medical interpreters, and improve operations efficiency which may reduce unused equipment times, patient wait times, and potential overcrowding of wait-rooms.

“Furthermore, as RadTranslate was designed for technologists and with technologist input, it addresses a common problem technologists face and therefore has broad interest,” the team added.

During the COVID surge last year, demand increased for chest radiography and interpretation services, prompting Mass General to set up respiratory infection clinics for patients suspected of having the disease. The institution and its innovation incubator developed a web app that uses AI-created, natural-sounding audio clips to guide patients through their exams.

Experts built RadTranslate using standardized phrases collected from a group of radiologists, techs and other staffers. And they tested it out using a tablet in the x-ray room at one outpatient center serving predominantly Spanish-speaking clientele. Piloting it over 63 days between April and June, Mass General saw 1,267 uses of the app. The most common phrases were a general explanation of the imaging exam (30%) and instructions to disrobe and remove any jewelry (12%).

Succi et al. reported no significant difference in imaging appointment duration during the study period when compared to standard care. However, the were was a statistically significant difference in the variability of exam length.

“Reduced variability allows for better scheduling prediction models to minimize unused room time and reduce patient wait times,” the study authors noted. “Similarly, there were multiple outliers in the standard-of-care group with appointment times lasting up to 39 minutes, likely reflecting extended language barriers and inefficiencies in the current human interpretation, while there were no such outliers in the RadTranslate group.”

You can read much more about the pilot in the Journal of the American College of Radiology here, and check out the app for free here.