Communication barriers in consultations and getting access to services are the biggest barrier to Deaf people getting a health service equivalent to hearing people. Lack of healthcare information in an accessible form is another major problem.
When a Deaf patient seeks treatment at your practice, there are some simple steps you can take to make sure you understand one another.
The Equality Act says you MUST make “reasonable adjustments” to give Deaf patients the same treatment as everyone else.
Booking an appointment
It starts with making an appointment. 45% of Deaf patients have to walk into their surgery to book time with their doctor, because of the lack of SMS, email and online access. It will soon be compulsory to offer that kind of access for all patients, so make the change now.
Have some kind of system to call people into the consulting room which doesn’t rely on shouting out their name.
Ask how your patient wants to communicate
Recognise your patient’s communication needs and make note of them on their medical records. Respecting your patient’s communication needs is a basic right for Deaf people, and one that will ensure you both have a clear understanding of the Deaf patient’s condition and treatment. Consultations with good communication are more effective, faster, and good medicine.
If your patient requires an interpreter, it is your responsibility to book one, not theirs. Friends and family are not cost-friendly equivalents and they should never be encouraged to attend for that reason. If you patient wants an interpreter and you make them use lip-reading, or pass notes to them, you are acting unlawfully.
Some deaf people will choose to communicate by lip-reading, and when that’s the case face to face interaction is key. Ensure you have your patient’s full attention before talking, and maintain eye contact throughout. The room needs to be well lit to ensure the best environment for lipreading, and background noises need to be minimal for those who have residual hearing, hearing aids, or cochlear implants. Do not turn to face your computer whilst talking, look down to fill out paperwork or cover your mouth with your hands. If your patient brings another person into their appointment, an interpreter or a family member, it’s essential that you talk directly to your patient at all times.
Continue to use normal lip movement and a normal volume of speech. Avoid using unnecessary jargon and complex English, as this will be confusing to someone who uses BSL as their first language. If you are having difficulty explaining something, try and think of a different way to explain yourself rather than repeating the same words again.