Bridge the gap in knowledge and resources for Low English Proficiency (LEP) patients in medical and healthcare settings.


POLLY is a service that facilitates communication between LEP patients and their doctors by providing interpretation training and resources to non-professional translators.

Role & Contributions

  • User research
  • Brainstorming and concept ideation
  • Prototyping
  • Visual design


  • Lily Kim (designer)
  • Helen Kim (developer)
  • Sophie Zhao (developer)

Overview & Deliverables

Inaccuracies in medical translation can lead to misinformed, dangerous decisions about a patient's health. Despite this risk, patients often ask unqualified, bilingual caretakers to fill in as "ad hoc" translators instead of a professional, whether due to discomfort or limited resources. We aimed to educate patients about their rights to a professional translator to ensure they can receive quality healthcare.

Pocket Course

The pocket course is designed to provide ad hoc translators with professional training, to bring attention to common errors and recommend best practices in medical translation. It is the initial touchpoint to introduce users to POLLY, and would be available in different languages.

Mobile App

The mobile app offers POLLY's full services. The app aims to support ad hoc translators in their primary role as caretaker, enabling them to send requests for professional translators, help translate more effectively, keep track of the patient's medication, and more.

Research Phase

Identifying the Problem

Through my teammate's personal experience, we became aware of a significant communication barrier for non-English speaking patients in hospital settings, making it difficult for them to get the right treatment. We sought to understand why this was the case.

Ad Hoc Interview Insights

We reached out to people who have acted as non-professional translators (our target users) and had 3 key findings:

  • Second generation children of immigrant parents often served older family members as translators.
  • Federally funded centers are technically required to offer professional translation services, but many do not as the laws are not enforced.
  • There is a strong correlation between LEP and "at-risk" status (uninsured, undocumented, or of low-SES background).
My parents thought I was more legit [than a professional]. And they trust me; if I mess up, they know it wasn't on purpose.
- Son of an immigrant mother

Expert Interview Insights

We saw great diversity in how health centers operated in communities with varying levels of English proficiency. Doctors working in medically underserved areas seemed more knowledgeable about immigrant needs and were better equipped to serve them. Some clinics were much stricter than others on consulting professional translators and had efficient systems to reach them.

Family members will put their own spin on things. If they don't understand what the physician is saying, they'll skip it. We use family as a last resort.
- Manager of Patient Experience at UPMC St. Margaret
Sorting our notes to identify pain points, patterns, and potential areas of intervention.

User Needs

Through our research, we found 4 user needs emphasized by medical professionals, caretakers, and translators:

  • The ability to make informed decisions about language services in health care
  • Training to minimize common translation errors
  • Better communication with doctors and with the patient
  • Respect for doctor-patient confidentiality

Design Phase

Pocket Course Development

With our research in mind, we decided one of the best things we could do was to keep ad hoc translators well-informed about their options, their right to request a translator, and best practices should they find themselves in a translator role.

We crafted a “crash course” filled with translation tips from professionals, designed to feel reassuring and fit in the user’s pocket. Our development process involved test prints, paper prototypes, and drafting the course’s content.

Prototypes and test prints. We even translated the course into other languages to test out our designs with other writing systems.

App Development

In addition to the Pocket Course, we wanted to offer users more abundant resources with a mobile app. In this process, I conducted research for useful app features, created wireframes and mockup screens, wrote copy, and provided assets for our developers.

Getting peer feedback on our project concept, Pocket Course prototype and mid-fi screens.
UI map, color coded by feature.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identifying a problem and its constraints, audience, physical context and assumptions through user research
  • Navigating a problem space dealing with sensitive topics and "red tape" research
  • Conducting research and using research-driven decisions to design iteratively
  • Creating a system with multiple touchpoints and which integrates into existing hospital/healthcare systems


If we had time to develop POLLY further, I would love to investigate partnerships with existing medical translation services and Pittsburgh's healthcare infrastructure. It would be interesting to learn how to culminate relationships with health and relocation centers to build a trusted network of resources for LEP clients. Additionally, throughout the course of the project we learned how diverse medical needs are in different geographic areas, so I would like to explore POLLY's concept for more unique and localized needs.