Syrian refugee medical translation tool reduces language barriers

Ocean News

Refugees can complete a full patient history and PHQ-9 mental health screening in Arabic or Armenian, with responses automatically translated to English

Toronto, ON – March 9, 2016 – With over 25,000 Syrian refugees recently arrived in Canada, a significant demand for primary care healthcare services is expected over the coming weeks and months. Physicians and front-line healthcare workers across the country are beginning to assess and treat a range of physical, emotional and mental health needs for this wave of refugees. However, providing appropriate care to non-English-speaking refugees can involve significant challenges, particularly with limited translation support available.

To help address this, a free, secure online tool has been developed to allow patients to complete a full history and mental health screening in Arabic or Armenian, with the results automatically translated to English for the clinician to review and add to the patient record. Collecting this information in the patient’s first language can help ensure a more complete and accurate history is collected, while also increasing the likelihood of sharing sensitive issues.

“We know that many of these refugees have experienced significant trauma and difficult living conditions , so we expect to see a wide range of healthcare concerns that need to be addressed,” said Dr. Sharon Domb, Family Physician with the Sunnybrook Family Health team. “In addition, the existence of a language barrier in many cases adds further challenges. By decreasing the impact of these language barriers, the medical translation tool will be incredibly valuable in helping us provide the highest level of care for these refugees.”

The Syrian Refugee Medical Intake tool was developed as part of Cognisant Causes, a charitable program run by CognisantMD that provides resources – in the form of project-based technology and marketing support – to non-profit healthcare organizations at no cost. The PHQ-9 for mental health screening has also been made available in Arabic with automatic translation to English, and additional clinical screening tools are planned for the future.

“As a family physician, I’ve experienced first hand how a language barrier can create stress and time pressure for both the patient and the clinician,” said Dr. Doug Kavanagh, a family physician at the North York Family Health Team and the Co-Founder of CognisantMD. “Together with the assistance of my Arabic and Armenian-speaking colleagues, we’ve created a tool that can help family doctors like myself to communicate with refugee families and connect them with the care they need.”

The forms are accessed through a web browser that allows patients to respond to questions online. All responses are encrypted before being sent to the Ocean Portal where a translated clinical note is generated which can be copied and pasted into the patient record. To ensure patient health information is kept secure, data is kept encrypted both in transmission and in storage.

There is no fee for patients to complete the forms, or for clinicians to review, copy and paste the results. Clinics using the Ocean Platform can also access the forms from the Ocean Library and present them on a patient tablets or send them as secure emailed links to allow patients to complete before their appointment. The forms can be accessed online at or through the Ocean library.

Special thanks to Dr. Faisal Al-Sani, Dr. Nour Khatib, Mrs. Salpi Der Ghazarian, Dr. Ani Hasserjian and Mrs. Seza Nazarian of Armenian Family Support Services, Holy Trinity Armenian Church for their assistance with translations.

About CognisantMD
CognisantMD is Canada’s leading provider of EMR-integrated patient engagement solutions. Using mobile devices and a cloud-based platform, Ocean allows patients to securely share health information for clinical use, administration and research. By adding Ocean Tablets and our large library of forms, patient questionnaires and clinical content to existing Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), the Ocean Platform provides a powerful way to connect patients to their physicians and beyond. For more information, visit

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