The purpose of the group "Special interest on medical support systems for foreigners" is to develop a support system to help foreigners in medical situations. The systems use the language resource of the Language Grid.

When foreigners who are not fluent in Japanese fall ill in Japan, they may be unable to receive adequate medical attention because of their inability to communicate with Japanese healthcare professionals. A highly accurate translation is necessary for medical communications because a clerical error may affect human life in the medical field. Today, medical translation volunteers accompany patients to support communication with Japanese healthcare professionals. However, 24-hour and emergency services are difficult for these volunteers.

Therefore, our group supports foreign patients using the Language Grid in a real medical field. We are developing a parallel-text-collection support system and a multilingual communications support system. These systems will be able to realize highly accurate multilingual communications in the medical field.

We describe these systems in the following section.

A parallel-text-collection support system

The parallel-text-collection support system is a system to collect and use multilingual parallel text in a medical field. The system clarifies the division of the roles to collect highly accurate parallel text.

  1. Parallel text user: Persons who use parallel texts.
  2. Parallel text proposer: Persons who propose a new one-half of parallel text.
  3. Parallel text translator: Persons who translate the new parallel text of the proposed new one-half of parallel text.
  4. Parallel text evaluator: Persons who evaluate the quality of newly created parallel text.
Each person can contribute within his or her range of ability. The allocation procedures create a collection of highly accurate parallel text.

The roles of users in the parallel-text-collection support system

Figure 1 The roles of users in the parallel-text-collection support system

Link to the parallel-text-collection support system

A multilingual communication support system M3

3is a support system for communication between foreign outpatients and medical staff at hospital reception desks. M3 uses two web services - a parallel text web service and a dialogue web service - which are based on the Language Grid to realize high accuracy in communications.

Relationship between M3 and the Language Grid

Figure 2 Relationship between M3 and Language Grid 

Outpatients can use the following functions: "hospital navigation," "Q&A," and "consultation help."

The details of M3 are introduced on the following pages.
Click to go to M3 page What is M3?

Photograph of the M3 system at Kyoto City Hospital

Now, M3 takes place at a patient reception window in Kyoto City Hospital

A snapshot of M3 usage at Kyoto City Hospital

Figure 3 A snapshot of M3 usage at Kyoto City Hospital

Medical staff initiative communications

Communication flow of medical staff initiative communications
Figure 4 Communication flow of medical staff initiative communications

Today, when a foreign outpatient comes to a hospital, medical staffs attempt communication using gestures and so on. However, it is difficult to offer 24-hour and emergency services. We need to develop an environment for communication that reassures foreign patients. Medical staffs and foreign patients can communicate accurately in their native language with M3. Medical staffs can converse with foreign patients for proper consultation. They can ask the patients about their condition.

Functions of patient initiative communications
Figure 5 Functions of patient initiative communications

Patient initiative information acquisition

Many outpatients visit large hospitals. Therefore, one medical staff cannot deal with one outpatient for a long time. M3 can support a stylized Q&A in a hospital for outpatients. Now, M3 has the functions of "hospital navigation," "Q&A," and "consultation help." The function "hospital navigation" provides the route for each section in a hospital. The function "Q&A" provides hospital FAQs, for example, detailed account information. The function "consultation help" provides the procedure to seek consultation.

Comments on the systems

Kana Maeda, Project Manager, International Medical Assistance and Support System Development, Center for Multicultural Society Kyoto
Photo of Kana Maeda

Our center started a project that has been dispatching medical interpreters to hospitals since 2003, and we receive over 1000 requests per year. However, since this project works by arranging for an interpreter after receiving the hospital’s request, it has been difficult to respond to emergencies and initial consultations and to be available 24 hours a day. This M3 system enables people from other countries to handle procedures at the reception desk and communicate during diagnostic interviews, which were initially huge obstacles for those people, and it enables them to visit hospitals without anxiety.

Aguri Shigeno, Executive Director, Center for Multicultural Society Kyoto
Aguri Shigeno

With the globalization of economics, more than 2 million foreign individuals reside in Japan. The incident in Mie prefecture last year, wherein a pregnant woman from a foreign country was rejected by 7 hospitals due to communication difficulties, suitably depicts how the language barrier within the medical field has become a vital issue. Although our center has been working on a project to dispatch interpreters to medical institutions to remove this barrier, the availability of our service is still limited to only small areas of the country. The reality is that language support has not advanced enough in Japanese society, which is becoming more globalized and multicultural. This M3 system enables patients of foreign origin to undergo the necessary procedures, such as initial consultations at a medical institution and diagnostic interviews, similar to Japanese patients, even when no interpreters are available. The system has lowered the levels of entry for hospital visits, and thus, made the visits easier for foreign individuals. I am hopeful that this system will make a positive and significant change in the provision of medical services for foreign individuals once it becomes widely available.

Atsuko Masamune, Medical Interpreter (English)
Airi Takashima, Medical Interpreter Coordinator, Nurse
Photo of Atsuko Masamune

I think that the days are near when we will hear comments like "Thanks to M3, I no longer have to worry about my handicap due to language differences and I can receive medical treatment with peace of mind" from patients of foreign origin. Since the system is equipped with a wide range of diagnostic material, patients can accurately convey their symptoms to doctors and nurses. Isn’t it wonderful to see multiple cultures coexist in a hospital?

Photo of Airi Takashima

Both patients and practitioners feel worried when they cannot communicate in Japanese. Also, since we never know when we will encounter patients who do not speak Japanese, there is a physical limitation with regard to having an interpreter for every patient. Given these circumstances, I hope that having the M3 system in a reception area, which is the initial entrance to the hospital, will lead to early consultations and continued hospital visits among patients who do not understand Japanese.

SIG (Special Interest Group)

Type-1 SIG


Chair Aguri Shigeno
(Center for Multicultural Society Kyoto)
Vice Chair Takashi Yoshino
(Yoshino Lab. Department of Design and Information Sciences, Faculty of Systems Engineering, Wakayama University)
Leader Mai Miyabe
(Center for Knowledge Struring, The University of Tokyo)
Member Toru Ishida
(Ishida and Matsubara Lab. Department of Social Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University)
Yasuhiko Kitamura
(Kitamura Laboratory, Department of Informatics, School of Science and Technology, Kwansei Gakuin University)
Tomohiro Shigenobu
(Language Grid Project, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology)
Kana Maeda
(Center for Multicultural Society Kyoto)
Yohei Murakami
(National Institute of Information and Communications Technology)
Taku Fukushima
(Yoshino Lab. Department of Design and Information Sciences, Faculty of Systems Engineering, Wakayama University)
Supporting Member Hisashi Ohara (adviser)
(NTT Advanced Technology Corporation)
Yoshie Omi (adviser)
(NTT Advanced Technology Corporation)
Hiroshi Tsumura (adviser)
(Division of Healthcare Informatics, Tokyo Health Care University)
Hiroyuki Yoshihara (adviser)
(Kyoto University)

Past Members

  • Hiroaki Tabuchi
    (Leader in 2008. He belonged to Kitamura Laboratory, Department of Informatics, School of Science and Technology, Kwansei Gakuin University)