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What About Deaf Patient Experience?

Posted By Kate O'Regan, Friday, September 22, 2017
Updated: Monday, September 25, 2017

I recently read Dr. Cordovano’s compelling case for a patient centric comprehensive medical records system in her recent blog. She opened with:

A patient was recently discharged from an exceptional hospital after a 2-day stay. During those 2 days, he saw endless doctors, attendings, residents, fellows, interns, nurses, nurse practitioners, nursing students, TV and phone service staff, physical therapists, social workers, case managers, housekeeping staff, spiritual chaplains, food and beverage staff, transport staff and discharge planners. Forgive me if I’ve missed anyone. All of these hospital employees play an essential role in a patient’s care at the hospital. There was just one person missing…

As my eyes honed in on the words “there is just one person missing,” I immediately think of the historically marginalized deaf community who continue to receive unequal and ineffective communication access to healthcare, something that can be achieved by using an effective and trusted interpreter. But the most critical piece, is an effective and trusted system of communication access that is patient-centric.

I want to recognize The Beryl Institute truth that healthcare can change by advancing an unwavering commitment to the human experience. I witness, too often, the deaf experience that is framed as less than human and that is fundamentally problematic.

Every day globally, deaf people experience a lack of an effective system, of awareness and of respect as humans. It is time to start to listen, advocate with and provide (give back) leverage to deaf patients, leverage that is often taken away from them at first glance.

To achieve a successful and sustainable care plan for deaf patients, here is what should be happening:  budget for communication access, create an internal department or find a vendor who can manage your services locally and work with the local deaf community. Also, every deaf patient should have the opportunity to be greeted by a local deaf[1] community advocate. This advocate will guide the deaf patient and medical professionals throughout the healthcare experience.

Every deaf person have different unique preferences to communication access. One deaf person with more moderate hearing loss might communicate using spoken English, but  use an interpreter to effectively receive spoken English. Another deaf person with profound hearing loss might have a PhD in Business Administration, not fluent in spoken English and accesses health care best with an interpreter. A person who was raised in another country who just moved to America may not be fluent in ASL and would rather speech to text technology called CART.

Deaf people have different communication access needs and a lack of system to recognize this diversity leads to a lack of health care access. Health care organizations need to contract with an agency that understand the needs of deaf patients when it comes to access. If they don’t, there is a high risk of liability under federal law. Some hospital administrators choose to contract with national level technology companies to provide Video Relay Interpreting (VRI) services without the consult of the deaf individual which are consistently unreliable, ineffective, unlawful, and cause further oppression of deaf people lead to gross negligence of patient experience and numerous hospitals have been brought to court by the US Department of Justice. If healthcare providers truly value patient experience, we need ask deaf patients what is effective and then implement those services. 

[1] A deaf person needs to be employed in this position or from a trusted locally deaf-centric advocacy organization.  See DEAF GAIN #googleit

Kate O'Regan grew up in Montpelier, VT and is the Founding President of Civic Access. She believes in social entrepreneurship as a form of economic empowerment. She lives in Charlottesville, VA with her three children.

Civic Access, was founded with the philosophy that legally mandated services of communication access can support forward progress for deaf access in the public sector.  

 

Tags:  access  communication  deaf patient experience  interpreter 

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