No English? No problem: App To Improve Doctor-Patient dialogue

A New Zealand clinician has developed a mobile app to improve communication between patients with limited English skills, and their medical staff.

Dr Janet Liang from Auckland hopes to improve access to medical advice for people with limited knowledge of the English language. (Photo: NZ Doctor)

The iOS app could be downloaded by hospital staff on their iPad and used to either ask questions, or explain treatment to patients.

Similarly, patients can use the app to communicate with their doctors and medical staff.

Dr Janet Liang, an intensive care specialist at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital,  spent almost five years in developing and fine tuning the app -  Listen Please.

“The app has been created out of my own professional observations about how we can better communicate with patients who don’t understand a lot of English, and for them to communicate with us more clearly when they cannot speak English or can’t speak at all,” says Janet, who believes that the app is not designed to do away with medical translators.

“Clinical translators do a fantastic job, but it sometimes isn’t practical to have one around all day, or sometimes they cannot be available quickly enough,” says Janet. The app could prove to be a life-saving tool in emergencies when no immediate translators are available, even among family members present.
Medical app iOS and Android


The beauty of the app lies in its versatility – it can be used in day-to-day conversations with inpatients, as well as in intensive care situations.

“The app allows for clinicians to ask simple questions that would be covered in a standard consultation, such as ‘are you in any pain?’ or ‘where do you feel pain?’”

The app offers two-way communication in that patients can also communicate with medical staff, for example, if they we wish to speak to a family member or to go to the toilet.

While there are other translation apps available including Google Translate, this app has been specifically designed for medical situations, and contains illustrations and photos to make communication faster and accurate.


Created for New Zealand, it contains written and audio translations in five main non-English languages in New Zealand – Samoan, Tongan, Cantonese, Korean and Mandarin.

There are plans to add more languages, including Hindi, Janet tells The Global Indian magazine. “I would love to include more languages, including Punjabi, although in New Zealand, Hindi is more common so that would probably be included prior. We’ll be guided of course by what the population demographics  indicate, and what population groups have the highest identified language barrier.”

As it is a stand alone app, it does not need internet access to work, which makes perfect sense, as it could be used in hospitals as well as clinics.

Janet was able to fund the development of the app after she won NZ$10,000 as prize money from the Health Informatics New Zealand Clinician’s Challenge in 2011 with her concept of Listen Please.

She received a further funding of $20,000 from the Waitemata DHB Asian Health Support Services, so that Janet could hire New Zealand mobile software company MEA to develop the app, according to a report in the NZ Doctor.

Janet then topped up the funding with $6000 from her own savings to bring the app on the iOS platform.

The proceeds from the sales of the app, available for NZ$12.99, would fund further improvements, and for adding more languages.

“I’m hoping proceeds from downloads will enable me to develop Listen Please further, so it becomes available on iPhones and on Android phones/digital tablets.”

 Listen Please

This is a mobile app to improve communication between doctors and their patients who cannot speak at all, or have a limited understanding of the English language.

Download Listen Please now

Operating system

iOS (May become available on Android later.)


  • Samoan
  • Tongan
  • Korean
  • Chinese Cantonese
  • Mandarin


Patient Talks Mode: If a patient wants to communicate to the clinician, after their language is selected the patient can use the Patient Talks mode to communicate their needs e.g. wanting to speak to one’s family/ friends, wanting to go to the toilet.

Clinician Asks Mode: The clinician can take a basic history/perform an physical examination, or

Clinician Explains Mode: The clinician can explain what care is going on or to explain clinical procedures (NOT for gaining informed consent), e.g. inserting an intravenous cannula. There is a session log that records Yes/ No/ Don’t know answers so that the clinician can go away from the bedside and write down what has happened; this clears every time a new language is chosen.




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