Verbal to Visual: Redesigning the Refugee Health Experience

Illustrations depicting the Visualize Service
"There are so many barriers to accessing health as it is...using third-party translation services just doesn't seem like the best mode of care."
Project Details
August 2020 - October 2020

Strategist and Designer

Worked in a team of 5 for our Service Design capstone

Refugee health issues in Austin, TX
How might we help non-english speaking patients feel confident and comfortable while visiting their primary care provider?
Refugee patients, or non-english speaking patients as a whole, have to use third-party interpreters through methods such as phone/video calls and, if they're lucky, an in-person translator. These patients have no idea if their message is being accurately translated to the healthcare provider, and the interpreter may not have a sufficient way to translate complex medical terminology.

The Service

We designed Visualize, a holistic patient communication system that transcends verbal communication and allows patients the option to communicate through only visual means. This service not only transforms the provider-patient relationship in the exam room, but it also optimizes provider access to patient information.
Visualize Digital (Steps 3 & 4 of the Visualize Service)

Key Research Insight:

Interpretation and translation can be a barrier to receiving proper care at a hospital or clinic.

We began the research process by creating a stakeholder map to further understand the different sides of the issue. We used our stakeholder map to identify interview participants and completed a total of 12 interviews with stakeholders in the Austin area. This includes refugees, healthcare providers, and representatives from non-profit refugee organizations. We used affinity mapping, service blueprinting, and journey mapping to synthesize our data. We used this synthesis to form our value statement and design criteria.

A stakeholder map of all those in Austin who might care about refugee health issues
click to enlarge!

Audio interpretation seems to be the only option in many cases

Communication as a whole is strongly lacking

For instance: she says "I feel the vein that goes from my left ear to the back of my head hurts so much. the translator ended up saying that she has a headache or her ears hurts. bcz he/she did not understand the word the patient used for "vein"

Needing a translator/interpreter in a health care setting can impact refugee comfort levels when receiving care

How do you know the other person is translating correctly?

Service Goals

How might we address the comfort level of the patient by increasing confidence in the provider and in the message that's being translated?

Given our research surrounding translation issues, we knew we needed to design a service that minimizes the use of third-party interpreters and promotes a smooth flow of communication between providers and patients.

Project Constraints

What is our minimum viable product, and how can that create value for stakeholders?

As part of the Service Design process outlined by our class, we were told to pivot from our early prototypes and strip it down to the bare minimum. What is the least we could do that would still provide value to the patient and their provider? We identified that as Visualize Digital. From that pivot, we came up with 2 product tiers: Visualize and Visualize Premium, where Visualize is just the digital component with the treatment print-out, and Visualize Premium is the system in its entirety.

Service Feedback

Is Visualize comprehensive enough to address health communication issues?

What are about patients who are not technologically savvy?
It's a good way to build patient autonomy
There's a major need for better interpretive methods in healthcare
3rd party interpretation often causes miscommunication; removing reliance on this could be useful
Would patients using this system stick out like a sore thumb?

This last piece of feedback led us to broaden our scope: this service can apply to all patients, not just refugees. Everyone should be able to feel confident in the message that's being communicated to their provider, and Visualize is accessible and easy enough to be used by all.

Service Impact

The bottom line: clinics will save money on third-party interpreter use. Patients have autonomy over the message that's being communicated to their provider.

  • Patients avoid the awkwardness of going through a third-party to convey their needs
  • Providers exert less energy gathering patient information, leaving more energy to be spent on the patient
  • Providers and patients can communicate more easily and dvelop a relationship
  • Patients are confident that their health history, clinic preferences, and health concerns are being communicated front-end to back-end without them lifting a finger


EHR Buyout: Could be implemented in partnership with EHR companies. Visualize could be bought out by EHR companies and most quickly get the service out to patients.

Hospitals & Clinics: Could be installed directly in hospitals and clinics. We've developed an adjustable cost estimator to help hospitals determine how much they would save on third-party interpreters.

Refugee Organizations: Partner with refugee service organizations to track use and response following appointments, giving us continual feedback to evolve our system.

Building Blocks
Pop Social Inc.