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The healthcare industry has seen significant benefits from telehealth, especially for patients with barriers that prevent them from getting regular care (such as lack of transportation, living in a rural area, or limited mobility). But while the rapid adoption of virtual health has opened many doors, it still presents significant challenges for deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) patients. For this community, care providers must have adequate language support services to bridge the technological gaps that exist.
According to a 2016 report, almost one in five people in the U.S. has hearing loss in both ears. This presents a significant problem as the use of telemedicine increases. In order to participate in a telehealth appointment, the patient must be able to hear what the physician or care provider is saying on the other side of the screen.
Many telehealth platforms are designed for a two-way conversation between the patient and the provider. They are not built to accommodate a third participant, so a medically qualified interpreter can't always be present on the video call.
While some patients can read lips, it's important for healthcare facilities not to rely on this as the only option to communicate with a deaf or HOH patient. In fact, even the best lip readers can only accurately interpret about 30% of spoken words in the English language. Additionally, asking the patient to communicate via writing or typing is not recommended. Not only is it an unideal communication experience, but ASL is grammatically very different from written and oral English. Signing represents a concept, not just a single word.
Video conference platforms with captions are also not adequate for patient-provider interactions. This is especially true if they are automatically generated through artificial intelligence (AI) software. AI has advanced significantly but still may miss information or cause errors that can lead to serious consequences for a patient's care.
Many providers instead rely on written information in the absence of qualified medical interpreters. Unfortunately, this is also not an adequate solution for everyone. More than one-third of Americans (an estimated 90 million adults) have low health literacy, which means they struggle to comprehend and process basic information related to their care. This is especially true for someone who speaks English as a second language (ESL). You might not think of someone who is deaf or hard of hearing as ESL, but American Sign Language (ASL) is very different from oral and written English.
When the patient is unable to hear, read, or clearly understand the provider, they miss out on important information that is vital to their care.
To improve telehealth for your deaf and hard of hearing patients, start by thinking about the patient journey. It's more than just the interaction on-screen during the exam. A comprehensive look at their journey can help you identify roadblocks and challenges at each stage, including:
Language solutions for telehealth need to provide adequate support for each step. Medically qualified interpreters with access to video phones (VP) or other tools can provide support throughout the patient's journey in your health system.
The best language support solutions for deaf and hard of hearing patients provide five things:
Language support for virtual care must also be flexible to accommodate different situations. Various facilities and providers within each facility may have different protocols or workflows that require your language provider to adapt.
GLOBO offers language solutions that meet ADA and ACA requirements to improve care for deaf and hard of hearing patients. We can help with all types of virtual care and telehealth services, including video interpreting, and have specially trained and medically qualified interpreters fluent in ASL available. Contact us today to learn more.