Interpreter Stories: How One Interpreter Helped a Patient with Low Health Literacy

By Kathryn Jackson, Vice President of Language Operations.

Low health literacy is common among the limited English proficiency population. It is something that the interpreters at Stratus Video encounter every day. Generally, it is the provider’s responsibility to ensure that their patient understands, but when an interpreter suspects that understanding is not taking place they are obligated to politely interrupt the session to confer with the provider.

A few weeks ago, an ASL interpreter on my team encountered a diabetes patient with low health literacy. Here is how that session went:

“I took a call from an endocrinologist who was discussing diabetes with his deaf patient. At first glance, it appeared as if the patient understood everything. However, I noticed some subtle facial expressions that led me to believe the patient did not actually understand the correlation between his diabetic medications and his blood glucose levels.

I politely interrupted the session to let the provider know of my suspicions and asked if he was familiar with this patient, or if they had just started working together. The doctor said he had been seeing the patient for years and had always been struggling to communicate.

I explained to the provider that it was not uncommon for deaf individuals to have “gaps” in their understanding of diabetes (and healthcare in general). The gaps can be due to limited access to education when growing up, or a lack of incidental learning opportunities.

The provider was grateful for the cultural information and back-tracked to give the patient an overview of what diabetes is and how it affects the body. Finally, the patient was able to understand the correlation between his nighttime medications and his morning blood glucose levels, exclaiming ‘Oh! Now I know why you don’t want me to skip my night time medications!’” – Stratus Video ASL Interpreter

Without this interpreter’s keen sense of the patient’s level of understanding, the deaf person would have remained confused about medication and treatment. Health literacy awareness is incredibly important to the efficacy of treatment outcomes. Stratus Video interpreters are always on the look-out for any fund of knowledge gaps that affect communication and when warranted, stand ready to support providers in assessing the health literacy of their patients.

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