Translation goes high-tech
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 21, 2005 12:00 AM
CyraCom makes splash in health care
When playwright Edmond Rostand created his play about Cyrano de Bergerac, a man
who used his talent with language to help another man woo a woman, Rostand could
not have known that a century later Cyrano's name would go high-tech.
The idea of one person speaking for another was the inspiration for CyraCom
International Inc., a Tucson company whose founders invented a dual-handset
telephone now used in 700 hospitals and health care facilities nationwide. The
patented phone and accompanying translation services allow English-speaking
medical professionals to converse with patients who speak any of more than 150
When a medical worker calls CyraCom's translation center, he or she is connected
to a translator who speaks the patient's language and is trained in medical
terminology. The company's CyraPhone allows provider and patient to speak
directly to the translator, a process that eliminates handing the phone back and
forth and saves precious time in emergencies.
Large hospitals might have staffers trained in the most common foreign
languages. Others might have outside translators on call or ask patients to
bring along a bilingual friend or relative.
Each of those options has drawbacks, though, said Michael Greenbaum, CyraCom's
chief executive officer.
For one, CyraCom has seen the number of languages being requested jump by 60
percent over the past five years. Its most requested language last year was
Spanish, followed by Russian, Vietnamese, Korean and Polish.
And translators who aren't familiar with medical terms take more time to
translate and increase the risk of errors. That option also raises issues of
The company employs some translators full time and has several hundred others
under independent contracts.
InfoWorld magazine named CyraCom one of the 100 most innovative corporate
information-technology solutions for 2004. The company also was ranked No. 446
on Inc. magazine's 2004 list of the nation's 500 fastest-growing private
companies. The company started when two Chicago high school friends, one of them
a University of Arizona student, invented the dual-handset phone for use in
translation services. They got a patent in 1995, moved the company to Tucson and
initially focused on corporate and tourism markets, then added health care,
insurance, and freight forwarding, among other industries.
When Greenbaum joined the firm, he suggested specializing in health care. "We
couldn't develop skills in every market segment," he said.
Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center employs its own Spanish translators, but
has used CyraCom for five years for languages ranging from German and Croatian
to Chinese and Farsi. The hospital even used it once when a patient was trying
to communicate with family members in Morse code, said Sandra Corder, director
of patient relations and volunteers.
"We support the patient's right to communicate, and we try to communicate
however it is meaningful to the patient," she said.