Opinion: New Technology Can Help Improve Patient Communication in the Oncology Setting


Interpretation devices may have a useful application in cancer care.

Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN

Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN

Being able to communicate with patients is a key component of delivering care, especially in surgical oncology. No matter how skilled the surgeon is, if the patient does not understand their plan for the shift or the entire length of their stay, they will be lost in a sea of misunderstanding. As a nurse, have you ever considered what this experience is like for a patient that has trouble communicating?

Linda Bloom, MPA, RN, OCN, presented on this topic during the 48th annual Oncology Nursing Society Congress. Her e-poster presentation, "Nurses Take on Language Access," stressed the importance of crystal-clear communication in the surgical oncology setting.

To ensure that nurses could properly assess patients before and after cancer surgery, perianesthesia nurses at Bloom’s institution, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, worked in conjunction with language experts to overcome communication obstacles for certain patient populations. Specifically, they wanted to improve communication with patients who had a limited proficiency in English or had auditory, speech and visual handicaps.

As part of this project, nurses leveraged technology to help overcome communication barriers. To communicate with patients with a limited English proficiency, nurses were provided tablets with embedded interpreter applications. Nurses also received smart phones and wearable communication devices, both of which came with audio interpretation software.

The video devices also had American Sign Language interpreters so that the nurses could communicate with hearing impaired patients. Amplifiers were also provided, along with “clear” masks, which allow patients to lip read.

Lastly, nurses used white boards and voice recorders to communicate non-verbal patients and visually impaired patients.

Project Outcomes

A chart on the poster tracked the number of phone calls between April 2018 and March 2019. In April 2018, there were two 20-minute interpreter calls and a total of 20 minutes were spent on interpreter phone calls.However, by January 2019, there were 305 audio calls and 29 video calls, resulting in a total of 305 minutes on the telephone and 648 video minutes. Clearly, this illustrated that the intervention was working.

As a result, all paranesthesia units received a second video interpreter tablet, 2 language assistance resource boxes, and clear masks for lip reading.

Implications for Practice

RN-conducted assessments are a key component of surgical oncology care. As such, nurses need to be able to communicate with all patients, including those who have language, visual, or hearing impairments. Using technology to help with these assessments is a smart approach, in my opinion. It also saves time and money by promoting earlier symptom identification and intervention.

According to nurse investigators behind this project, using communication technology “advanced health equity by honoring linguistic, communication, and cultural diversity.” In my opinion, these examples illuminate how technology can aid the patient. Moving forward, I can see how health care professionals specializing in oncology could also use these tools beyond the surgical unit.


Bloom L. Nurses take on language access. Presented at 48th Annual Oncology Nursing Society Congress. April 25-30, 2023; San Antonio, TX. Accessed June 15, 2023.https://ons.confex.com/ons/2023/qi/eposterview.cgi?eposterid=2528

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