Communication barriers are a primary cause of insufficient access to health care, particularly for deaf or hard of hearing patients.

Effective communication between patients and healthcare providers results in shorter stays, reduced readmission rates, better patient satisfaction and more.

Unfortunately, communication barriers are a primary cause of insufficient access to health care, particularly for deaf or hard of hearing patients.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires organizations to provide auxiliary aids and services “to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals.” Additionally, the National Association of the Deaf has outlined guidelines for health care providers to ensure they follow these requirements.

Based on these guidelines, here are a few steps hospitals and other healthcare organizations should take to improve communication for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Understand Each Patient’s Specific Communication Needs

The patient will be best able to assess their needs and the appropriate communication methods.

Flag medical records to identify those who need language and communication assistance so providers can make provisions for effective communication during each appointment or encounter.

Avoid Ineffective Methods of Communication

Providers who know basic sign language should only fill in as a last resort in an emergency situation until a professional interpreter is available, but they may not be qualified to handle complex health care discussions.

Factors such as facial hair or lighting can harm lip reading abilities, and some sounds cannot easily be read on the lips. In addition, strong emotion or medication may hinder a patient’s ability to lip-read.

Finally, note writing is time-consuming and can add a level of complication to patient-provider interactions.

Provide Qualified ASL Interpreters

For most medical situations, a professional American Sign Language interpreter is the best, if not the only, option to ensure quality communication. Unlike friends and family members of the patient, who should not be put to work in this role, a professional ASL interpreter with additional training in medical interpreting will have knowledge of medical terminology and interpreting strategies. They will also be trained to communicate impartially even in cases of highly sensitive medical topics or during a crisis, when every second counts.

While stating that onsite interpretation is preferable, the National Association of the Deaf supports the use of video remote interpreting (VRI) when onsite interpreters are unavailable. VRI is a service that uses Internet-connected devices with webcams to connect a patient and health care provider to a professional interpreter at another location. These services can be provided by appointment or on-demand, 24 hours a day.

VRI is especially beneficial in urgent situations where it would take too long to bring in an onsite interpreter, or in areas where onsite sign language interpreters are not readily available. VRI is also a cost-effective means of providing effective communication because it is typically charged by the minute, with no minimum fees or travel expenses.

Cost, convenience or availability should not constrain your organization’s efforts to provide quality health care to Deaf or Hard of Hearing patients and meet legal obligations. Language Line's(R) InSight℠ Video Remote Interpreting provides on-demand access to interpreters who are nationally certified in American Sign Language. The app’s audio and video are compliant with the ADA’s requirements for Auxiliary Aids and Services and the similar quality standards in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

Are you seeking to better understand the compliance requirements for ensuring effective communication with Deaf and Hard of Hearing patient? We invite you to watch our ADA webinar, which contains a great deal of information on this subject.

To learn more about InSight, request a free demo.

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