Deaf Patients Face Unique Challenges in Healthcare

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients face unique challenges in patient provider encounters. Written English is not typically a first language but rather a second language for most. This is an essential factor to keep in mind when it comes to written healthcare information such as informed consent documents, written prescriptions and follow up care instructions. Another key factor to keep in mind is that not all Deaf people communicate via American Sign Language (ASL). Some use other forms of sign language, including home signs developed within the family. In addition, ASL is not a universal sign language. Deaf individuals from other countries or regions utilize different sign languages to communicate.

To ensure meaningful understanding takes place, Deaf patients must be provided with a qualified medical interpreter. Interpreters are trained to identify and clarify any cultural nuances that impact the patient-provider relationship to ensure meaningful understanding takes place. In addition, as part of their commitment to accuracy, interpreters are trained to inform the provider when effective communication is not taking place. If an ASL interpreter, for example, notices that the Deaf or Hard of Hearing patient does not communicate via American Sign Language, he or she will immediately inform the provider and request the assistance of a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI).

CDIs are Deaf or Hard of Hearing themselves, have specialized training in the use of mime, props, drawings and other communication tools, possess a deep understanding of Deaf culture and the Deaf community and are fluent in ASL. When Deaf patients do not communicate via ASL, the CDI works as a bridge to convey accurate meaning between the Deaf patient and the ASL interpreter, who then conveys that same meaning back and forth to the provider in spoken English. The ASL interpreter and CDI work together to ensure the patient has meaningful access to his or her healthcare information and can actively engage with the provider in his or her healthcare plans. Learn more about how to identify when you need a CDI here.

American Sign Language and Certified Deaf Interpreters can either come onsite to interpret in person or be reached over HIPAA compliant video. Both modes of interpretation are recommended to ensure language access is readily available when needed. Onsite is preferable when the patient has physical impairments that make seeing a VRI device difficult, has cognitive limitations, is participating in a large group session or is receiving difficult news, such as a terminal or life changing diagnosis. While most other healthcare conversations can be facilitated over video, some Deaf patients prefer to have an interpreter come onsite, particularly if they have never used a VRI device before. If an onsite interpretation team is not available at the time of a request, VRI may be utilized to begin the conversation, so as to not delay care, and then transitioned to onsite when available. At Stratus Video, we have found that our VRI delivery is so seamless, that when an onsite interpreter does become available, many patients opt to stick with our video team of interpreters rather than make the switch.

At Stratus Video, our sign language interpreters are nationally certified and undergo extensive internal training prior to going live on our video platform. We also take steps to ensure our ASL interpreters are registered in states that require registration. Our team of interpreters for Deaf patients includes CDI – an invaluable tool for those who do not communicate via ASL.  Learn more about us, our interpreter qualifications  and their commitment to improve patient care.

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