An app bridges the language gap

St Vincent’s Hospital (Melbourne) is part of Australia’s largest not-for-profit Catholic healthcare provider, St Vincent’s Health Australia, which operates over 17 sites.


The Melbourne arm provides medical and surgical services, sub-acute care, aged care, correctional health, mental health services and a range of community and outreach services. They have more than 5,700 staff and 880 beds over four facilities.

The Challenge

At St Vincent’s Melbourne Hospital, more than 47% of the patients are culturally and linguistically diverse, which can have an impact on the quality of their everyday conversations with health professionals. The hospital has an interpreter service which provides great support for staff when communicating with patients, but it’s difficult to extend these services consistently to patients in sub-acute care, such as residential aged care. Staff had been resorting to third party translation tools and even flashcards to communicate daily instructions.

Monita Mascitti-Meuter, Cultural Diversity Program Co-ordinator, had a dream of improving the quality of care and dignity afforded patients by creating a set of standard phrases with accurate translation and accent, and be able to use them in visual and audio form to communicate. A great solution was to create a practical mobile app that could be used at the bedside by health professionals.

The Datacom Difference

The hospital wanted to trial this solution as an internal innovation programme. We proposed a rapid prototyping approach that relied on a joint project team working intensely together to build an active solution over a couple of weeks. Members of the team included representatives from St Vincent’s Speech Pathology, Interpreter Services, IT and Nursing, who worked with our designers and developers.

We firstly focused on the Greek language and developed an Apple iPad clickable prototype with a polished user interface. Health professionals could select approved sentences and questions matching everyday activities involving patients. Embedded voice files then translated, displayed and spoke the questions to the patients in Greek, and accommodated their acknowledgements.

Initial feedback from staff trialling the solution in the wards has been excellent. One resident started finishing her meal every day as she was more aware of her condition and what she needed to do. Another resident managed to finally let staff know about a long-term pain in her knee and the underlying issue has been resolved. The management are so impressed they are now thinking about how to expand the concept across the hospital.

“Datacom’s rapid prototyping approach was very effective in delivering a working solution with consensus from all the parties who needed to be involved. It really showed our health professionals what great things can be done with technology in healthcare.”

Simon Richardson, CIO, St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne