Canopy’s story begins with the experience of its founder, Bill Tan, who came to the U.S. with his family as a 15-year-old Chinese immigrant.
Initially relying on a simple, 300-word vocabulary phrasebook, Bill’s limited English familiarity thrust him into the role of family interpreter for doctor’s appointments and emergency room visits. While he proudly served in that role for his family, he knew, like thousands of patients and families with limited English proficiency, his understanding of the language was severely inadequate to operate in the role with which he was entrusted..
One morning, Bill skipped school to help admit his grandmother in the hospital for a serious heart condition, filling out forms and translating for worried family members. When Bill returned the next day, guilt overcame him when he discovered drawings of a bedpan on a nearby notepad left by his grandmother. She had needed to use the bathroom, but didn’t know how to ask.
These types of miscommunications result not only in frustration for clinicians who want to help, but also guilt, embarrassment and poorer health outcomes for patients.
For Bill, two major themes stuck out through these experiences. Clinicians desperately wanted to provide excellent care to all of their patients, but often lacked the ability to do so when treating patients with limited English proficiency. Further, healthcare facilities often employed valuable interpreters to assist with basic communications such as the scenario he grandmother and her nurses experienced and he noted that these mundane, everyday communications represented roughly 80% of all patient-clinician interactions.
This was Bill’s “a-ha” moment. It was clear that the language barrier wasn’t the fault of the patient, clinicians, or administrators, but was instead the result of a misunderstanding of the problem and the poor process that resulted in the desperate effort to solve it.
It’s no longer enough for our healthcare system to say, “we contract with a vendor that supplies interpreters in over 100 languages.” While trained medical interpreters are a valuable resource, the reality is that there are not enough of them to meet all of the need.
Ending the language barrier means that healthcare organizations need to do much more, to diversify their language services and go beyond the use of interpreters. They need to invest in a multilingual workforce of doctors and nurses who speak the languages of the communities they serve and they need to make pre-translated intake forms and discharge instructions more readily available for their patients.
In 2010, Bill Tan vowed to eliminate the language barrier in healthcare and created Canopy Innovations. Since then the team has won several research and innovation awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study and understand the problem, develop innovative solutions, and grow lasting and meaningful partnerships for our Canopy360 solution for ending the language barrier in all of its unique presentations.
Canopy now partners with and serves dozens of health systems and medical and nursing schools and has created the #1 medical Spanish course and #1 medical translation phrasebook in the US.
Bill’s work is inspired by his experience as a family interpreter and the many opportunities he has been able to access as a result of being multilingual. Through the delivery of innovative solutions, Bill firmly believes that complex, systematic barriers such as the language gap can be effectively managed and eventually eliminated. He envisions a future where equitable access to the same opportunities and resources is available to all in the fields of healthcare, education, and social services.
Mark's engineering background started in video games and virtual reality and branched out into mobile and chatbot applications, large-scale enterprise systems, machine learning with protein molecules and human cells, satellite systems, biotech, geospatial applications, and medtech. He has held senior director, senior engineer, tech lead, software engineer, and senior consultant roles at Provivi, Ursa Space Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, and more. Every week, he dances the Argentine tango, practices martial arts, plays the piano, and runs tabletop RPGs. Once upon a time, he was an adjunct lecturer in creative writing at NYU and started coding in a video game design course that put him on a new career trajectory.
Dr. Riestenberg is an applied linguist and expert on language teaching and learning. For over a decade, Kate has designed dynamic and evidence-driven language materials, curricula, and assessments in seven different languages for stakeholders ranging from the U.S. State Department to an indigenous language revitalization program in Mexico. Kate taught college-level linguistics courses for several years and has held research positions at the Smithsonian Institution and the Center for Applied Linguistics.
Dr. Wysocki is a product, growth, and integrative marketer with over 8 years of experience in SaaS and elearning companies. As a historian and university lecturer in Tucson, San Diego, Havana, and Tijuana, he has worked in several capacities to bridge the cultural, economic, and policy gaps between the US and Latin America. David has worked on several projects in Oaxaca, Mexico to promote sustainable farming and nutrition and as an archivist to increase migrant access to official documents. With Canopy, he uses stories, art, and data to connect healthcare professionals to our life-saving product.
Anna is an account executive responsible for developing key client relationships and fostering existing partnerships for the company. During the pandemic, Anna served as a registered nurse in the COVID pod at one of the largest pediatric health institutes in the country. Anna experienced firsthand the same issues that many healthcare workers are facing today, with a shortage of interpreters available to serve the limited English proficiency population. As a result, she is passionate about providing universities and health institutes with innovative, educational resources to better serve our LEP populations.
Bridget is an account executive responsible for developing and maintaining relationships within the healthcare education space. Prior to joining Canopy, Bridget worked as a labor and delivery registered nurse at a Level IV Maternal Designation hospital in Texas. Here she had many experiences caring for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) and saw firsthand that the solutions for language barriers in use today are not sufficient. Because of this, she is dedicated to creating an impact on healthcare by ensuring providers have the necessary resources to deliver patient-centered care to LEP populations.
Sarah is a software engineer responsible for helping maintain and enhance Canopy's online platform. Having a multilingual background, Sarah is extremely familiar with language barriers that so many communities face, especially in the healthcare setting where resources can be limited. She is dedicated to Canopy's vision and believes in breaking down these communication barriers to optimize patient care and contribute to patient empowerment.