About 20 hospitals in Japan will begin a test starting this fiscal year of an automated translation system used exclusively in medical contexts, as part of efforts to help foreign visitors feel safe in visiting Japanese medical institutes.
The test will be conducted at facilities including the University of Tokyo Hospital, Mitsui Memorial Hospital in Tokyo and Rinku General Medical Center in Osaka prefecture.
The hope is to put the system to practical use sometime before the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, when an increased number of foreign visitors is expected.
The University of Tokyo Hospital, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and Fujitsu Ltd. jointly developed a tablet device that translates spoken communication between patients and doctors from Japanese into English or Chinese, or vice versa. The output may be in either written or voice form.
About 1 million translation examples of travel-related conversations, as well as 200,000 examples for medical settings, are registered on a server at a hospital that is connected to the device.
Artificial intelligence will select the most appropriate examples from the data. Subtle nuances such as “throbbing” or “gripping” pain are also registered in the system.
A test was conducted last fiscal year at six hospitals in Tokyo and Osaka prefecture using a Japanese-English translation system. This fiscal year the system will be tested at 20 hospitals in Aichi, Kagoshima and other prefectures.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, about 24 million foreigners visited Japan last year, and the government aims to increase the number of annual visitors to 40 million by 2020.
However, according to a government survey in fiscal 2013 covering 766 hospitals nationwide, only 35 percent said they were ready to provide interpreters for patients, including interpreter services offered by phone.
Hideomi Yamada, vice chief of University of Tokyo Hospital’s International Medical Center, who is in charge of the system’s development, said, “This device will be able to provide hospital information and handle billing. We’d like to help patients who can’t speak Japanese feel at ease when they visit us.”