1995 Finalist
U.S. Department of Defense
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

The Multimedia Medical Language Translator (MLT) is a laptop computer system used at bedside to permit communication between health care providers and patients who do not share a common language. This multimedia medical translator was originally conceived in early 1993 by Naval Commander Lee Morin while he was serving in Operation Desert Storm. Recognizing the potential of the prototype, the Commanding Officer of Naval Aerospace and Operational Medical Institute provided a seed budget of $5,000 and, in anticipation of a potential role this device could play in the evolving conflict in the former Yugoslavia, added five Balkan languages.

MLT was officially initiated in March of 1994 in Croatia for the purpose of enhancing the communication capability of U.S. Navy and United Nations health care providers staffing Fleet Hospital Zagreb. By that time, several enhancements, including additional languages, were prepared on an urgent basis to meet expanding requirements. Additional funding made possible program expansion. Funding came from the Medical Research and Development Department of the Special Operations Command; the Naval Medical Information Management Center; the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery; and Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe,. With these additional funds, professional linguists were hired to add further to the system’s language recognition and translation capabilities.

The three most important measures that have been used to evaluate program success are the number of requests that received for evaluation copies, the number of systems required at Fleet Hospital Zagreb to meet patient interpretation needs, and the number of languages requested for development. Initially, three computer systems were installed at Fleet Hospital Zagreb with 13 languages. To meet patient needs, two additional systems were installed on a priority basis, and two additional languages added. The Special Operations Command requested a system with at least 32 languages and several other features. In total, approximately 100 requests for the MLT software from civilian and military activities have been received from across the United States. The Navy is currently preparing to add the 11 mutually unintelligible languages of the Federated States of Micronesia in collaboration with Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, to meet medical interpretation needs across the Pacific.

The single most important achievement to date, however, has been the deployment of the MLT System to Fleet Hospital Zagreb. This program has been very helpful in bridging the communication problem posed by caring for 40,000 United Nations personnel from 35 different nations.