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Deaf Patients and Their Right to Effective Communication and Access to Medical Attention

When someone is going through a medical emergency, it can be an overwhelming time. What makes a situation even more terrifying is when there is little to no information and the person’s life is on the line. This gets even more difficult if you do not have any previous experience with medical professionals or were not educated in medical science as a doctor or nurse. The old adage of “knowledge is power” is even more poignant where you are in an emergency situation.

Now, imagine if you were like the estimated 55,000 Marylanders between the ages of 18 and 64 who suffer from a hearing disability, the 2.1% of the American population that has a hearing problem, or the under 1% of Americans who are considered deaf. How much more terrifying would any situation be if you were unable to effectively communicate with your doctor?

What is Required Under Federal Law

According to federal law, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all hospitals are required to provide effective communication through translation and interpreting services for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Effective communication is the ability for medical professionals to provide clear information to either a deaf patient or a deaf person about a loved one (possibly a parent, spouse, or someone looking after an aged family member). This information may cover important subjects such as a patient’s medical history, a patient’s symptoms, a patient’s treatment options, how these treatment options will be administered and their risks, and whether or not there is consent to perform medical procedures on the patient in the event of an emergency.

The Lack of Interpretative Services in Medical Settings

Though there is a legal requirement in place that deaf patients (or their loved ones) have access to interpreting and translation services, reports have shown that hospitals are under-delivering. The deaf community is having to make do with either unlicensed American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, such as a family member of the deaf patient who may not understand the medical terminology or how to communicate the information or licensed interpreters who either need to be booked far in advance or are unable to stay longer than what the entire visit requires. Finding an interpreter when there is an emergency and information needs to be provided immediately for decision-making purposes may be almost impossible in these scenarios.

The Importance of Effective Communication to Deaf Patients

Studies have shown that where there is effective communication between doctors and their deaf patients, hospital stays may be shorter, the patients will be more able to effectively adhere to a treatment regime, unnecessary medical diagnostic tests or screenings will be limited, medical follow-up will be easier and more effective, there are fewer emergency visits or readmissions, and there are fewer misdiagnoses.

Steps the Medical Professional May Take to Help Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Patients

While there is still a dearth of options for the deaf community or those who are hard of hearing, doctors who know they have deaf patients should take certain steps to effectively communicate, even where an interpreter is not available. First and foremost, having access or knowing how to gain access with a licensed interpreter- having a previous professional relationship will help you as a medical professional to ensure that you are working with the right person who can effectively communicate your thoughts. Also know how to use the Communication Access Realtime Translation (known as “CART”) which is a special machine that helps in interpretation. Finally, because English may be an ASL speaker’s second language and reading and writing may be difficult, have easy-to-understand pictures, charts, or other auxiliary aids to help determine symptoms or other uncomplicated issues that may be able to be explained through pictures.

Charles County, MD Personal Injury Lawyers that Fight for You

If you or a loved one is a member of the deaf community and is not receiving access to interpreting services or effective medical attention, it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call the Law Office of Robert R. Castro at (301) 804-2312 for a confidential consultation.

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