If you are entrepreneur with a knack for languages an interest in health, the dark clouds of the pandemic may have a silver lining. COVID-19 has moved a wide range of health and medical services online. Technology has given individuals and small businesses new opportunities to provide value added services. We’ll consider some ways to make extra money while contributing to the health and well-being of fellow humans.
How Has the Pandemic Transformed the Telehealth Industry?
The field of telehealth is growing at a fast pace. The global industry, estimated at 26.4 billion in 2020, is expected to increase at an astonishing 17. 7% annual growth rate and top 70 billion by 2026. The report credits the COVID-19 pandemic with multiplying demand for home care services, where individuals can access information and treatment from clinicians without visiting them or healthcare facilities.
Telehealth is often mixed up with telemedicine, another fast-growing and related field. Generally speaking, telehealth covers a broader range of remotely delivered health care services, while telemedicine focuses on clinical treatments. Telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as administrative services and non-clinical services like public health information, health education, remote health consulting monitoring, and even “patient sitting.” In most or all of these, there is a strong linguistic component, requiring translation or interpretation when mediating people who speak different languages.
Another effect of the pandemic has been the dissolution of borders for purposes of information exchange among health care professionals and providers. Research about treatments and vaccines needs to be disseminated at lightning speeds from one side of the world to the other. What has been slower in keeping pace has been the language services to overcome linguistic border, but providers of these services have also been ramping up their operations and the technological application to support them. Let’s consider that development in some detail.
Medical Translation is a fast-growing professional niche
Translation is an important component of the tele-health field. Translation or localization agencies provide a variety of medical translation services. Strictly speaking, translation refers to the conversion of a document from one language to another. Documents can be anything from a press release to a public speech to a brochure, technical manuals, scholarly research papers, and clinical reports. Certainly, there is a need for some specialized health or medical knowledge to perform this kind of translation. But often training as a nurse or paramedic can suffice: no need to go through med school to translate healthcare documents.
However, medical translation is a competitive field. There are translation companies which specialize in medical translation services that focuses exclusively on health care documents. Other translation agencies cover a broader range of industries but promote the medical specialization, training and certification of the linguists in the service networks they command. There are also freelancers who combine knowledge of two or more languages with professional training in medical or healthcare fields.
If you are interested in getting into the fields as an independent entrepreneur, and you have some skills or aptitude in both languages as well as medicine, you can get started relatively quickly. Just put together a telehealth translation-focused CV, post your profile in marketplaces like Upwork or Freelancer.com, and begin gaining experience. Once you have some successful gigs under your belt, you may find that agencies start approaching you for document translation work.
Video or Virtual Interpretation is another telehealth juggernaut
One of the telehealth niches that has been growing especially quickly is remote video interpretation or virtual interpretation technology. Almost all of us have been participating more and more in video calls by Zoom or Skype, WhatsApp and other conferencing platforms. But what happens when the person with whom you need to consult about a health or medical topic doesn’t share a common language with you? That’s where the need for VRI comes in.
Before the era of cheap video bandwidth, smart TVs and smartphones, similar services were provided by Over the Phone Interpretation. It turns out that many people, especially kids and seniors, are uncomfortable with voice-only interpretation, so OPI never took off. Video Remote Interpretation has been around as long as videoconferencing but the specialization advanced dramatically in the last year. As in-person communications on health issues became increasingly impractical, remote services arose to deliver remote interpreters in specific languages and topics, either on-demand or according to scheduled appointments. A sub-branch of the field is RSI or Remote Simultaneous Interpretation, when the communication delay between the speaker and the interpreter is virtually nil.
Video Interpretation is a skill that is rarer and thus more in-demand, and pricier, than medical translation. It demands a cool, calm presence and a precise, soothing voice. It’s also a specialization that is not easily delivered as an independent freelancer. A successful business requires scaling, marketing and scheduling abilities that are usually beyond the scope of an individual. Skilled video interpreters usually attach to one or more platforms or services providing VRI, not necessarily limiting themselves to telehealth.
What About Free Translation and Interpretation Apps for Telehealth?
Not surprisingly, for every rising demand, “there’s an app for it.” Google Translate provides decent translation and voice interpretation support. Microsoft Translator does a decent job of one-to-many multilingual voice conferencing. But don’t relying on machines to replace expert human linguists when health is at stake. Lives, not just meaning, can be lost in translation.