Migration, Innovation and Transformation: Refugee Access to Healthcare 


Over 1 million refugees passed through Greece in search of sanctuary in 2015. The EU-Turkey deal, signed on 20th March 2016, has left over  60,000 people stranded in the Eurozone’s most crisis-stricken member state.

Today, they are living in makeshift camps and detention centres across the country. 48% of them are children.

Refugees in Greece are currently able to access healthcare in three ways:

  1. They are entitled to receive treatment in Public Sector Hospitals.
  2. They may visit primary healthcare centres in the refugee camps (where these are available).
  3. They may pay to receive treatment privately.

Private treatment is out of the financial reach of most. The primary healthcare offered in the camps is, if available and from our experience, extremely basic. Frequently, refugees are referred from primary healthcare workers and medical NGOs working in the camps, to public sector hospitals where they are entitled to receive free treatment.

All too often, predominantly Arabic and Dari speaking refugee communities who attend public sector hospitals without interpreters, are not able to communicate clearly with Greek doctors.

Language barriers are of particular concern in healthcare where life or death decisions are made, and treatment plans agreed on by medical professionals in consultation with their patients. Language barriers compromise both diagnosis and treatment of illness. Without proper interpreters, doctors struggle to understand what patients are telling them. Patients can misunderstand instructions and take the wrong prescription doses, fail to understand their diagnosis or treatment, or worse.

There have been numerous cases, to our knowledge, of patients being misdiagnosed and mistreated because of communication difficulties, including one woman who unnecessarily had her appendix removed.

In addition, standard consultations which would normally take ten minutes, can take up to two hours as patients and doctors struggle to understand one another.

The Cisco DX70 is a specially constructed computer, which enables medical practitioners and patients, who do not speak a common language, to access remote language interpretation through high-definition video, at the press of a button.

The aim of the system is to enable healthcare organisations to eliminate time, distance, and language as barriers to effective communication between medical practitioners and their patients.

The system was originally devised for use in hospitals in California. However, the implementation of the system in Greek hospitals would transform access to healthcare for the refugee population now living in Greece, and enable them to communicate with doctors in their native language.

Following consultations with the manufacturers of the machine, our project seeks to install The Cisco DX70 in two hospitals in the pilot phase of the project. The 14-inch, all-in-one touchscreen with codec, camera and speakerphone is fully portable, making it patient friendly as the machine can be moved to hospital bedsides or private rooms if consultations are needed there. The machine requires a trolley on which it can be moved.

The machine is simple to operate. Once needed, the doctor will activate a call to a call cente where trained interpreters will help the doctor and patient to communicate with one another to ensure that the doctor understands the patient’s symptoms fully and is able to diagnose illness correctly. The diagnosis will in turn be translated to the patient, ensuring that they have a clear understanding of their illness and the treatment that is being prescribed.

We have conducted extensive research to map which hospitals are serving refugees, in which camps. We would be delighted to share our research with you. In response to our findings, we propose to implement the pilot of this project in two hospitals in Northern Greece who together serve a refugee population of over 13,000.

In addition to benefitting the refugees themselves, the project will support medical practitioners to reduce the prolonged consultation times resulting from the inability to communicate with their patients. This will in turn improve access to healthcare for the host communities themselves who will be able to see their local doctors more quickly.

Please contact anna-louisa.psarras@prosperoworld.org for further details or if you are able to support our efforts.