PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - For Phoenix's refugee population, language barriers and cultural differences can keep them from getting the care they need at the hospital. But a new app designed by an ASU graduate called LiteraSeed aims to change that.
"Pictures were one way to communicate more universally," said Aziza Ismail, the founder of LiteraSeed.
The app uses cartoon depictions of different discomforts as well as simple, plain language to allow patients to describe their symptoms even if they can't speak English or don't know how to read.
"My family came here from Afghanistan after the Soviet-led invasion. So I had grown up with always seeing the struggles that my parents had with literacy and the language barriers," said Ismail.
And then tragedy struck her family. "I had a ten-year-old cousin who went to the emergency department with a life-threatening condition," said Ismail. "But because of a misunderstanding of her symptoms, she ended up waiting to see a doctor in the ER... and lost her life while waiting to see a doctor in the ER."
According to the American Medical Association, more than 3/4ths of medical misdiagnoses are because of a breakdown in communication between doctors and patients. That's lead to an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 avoidable hospital deaths each year in the U.S.
"There are words that may not be translatable in one's native tongue," said Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, founder of Valleywise Health’s Refugee Women’s Health Clinic. "The word may not exist or it may not be culturally appropriate or we may need to use a different type of word to convey the same meaning."
The Refugee Women's Health Clinic has been using the app. Early data shows that patients are either sharing the same number or of symptoms or more than they would when communicating with a doctor face-to-face. "It's very novel. It's innovative. But there's great opportunity for us to really further hone the science," Dr. Johnson-Agbakwu said.
And while her cousin couldn't be saved, Ismail hopes to expand the app to other hospitals and help more people in the process. "This is something that could potentially help save a lot of other lives," Ismail said.