When you are Deaf or hard of hearing, or even if you CAN hear, the hospital can be a confusing place. Additionally, staff may not have the resources or understand how to care for you in the best way possible. To keep it simple, everyone who may come into contact with you needs to be prepared for your visit. To do this, you need to smile, be a diplomatic and strong self advocate!
Here are some easy to implement ideas for you to suggest to your doctor and health care system!
1. Every chart should have patient identification.
A sticker that states:
“Deaf” or “Hard of Hearing”
If you want to provide more information, these may be helpful:
“Speech reads or Reads lips”
“Does NOT read lips”
“Interpreter needed” (and contact information if possible)
2. Make sure they know to arrange Pre and Post-surgery interpreters (for surgeries where you are awake, C-sections, for example, interpreters are needed for the whole process—before, during and after!)
* Let surgical center or hospital know in advance that you will need interpreters.
* If the surgical center or hospital is not sure where to get interpreters, let them know of reliable interpreter services in your area…through an agency or a direct recommendation.
* If you are not sure where to get help, contact the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (www.rid.org) or a local city or state Registry of Interpreters. Often, they are in the phone book under “Interpreters,” “Deaf services,” or other similar topic.
3. See if your hospital uses a color wristband ID—similar to the Allergy ID bands that say “Deaf” or “hard of hearing” instead of Penicillin allergy.
4. Check about possibly putting a yellow (or other color) sign on the wall behind them that states, for example, “Patient is Deaf.” Some people may have other preferences.
* A similar idea is a sign on the door to your room.
5. Make sure call buttons with the hospital operator and nursing stations say that you are Deaf or hard of hearing. Let them know how to best contact you!
* If family members or friends want to contact you, the operator or nursing station should have a way to notify you if someone is calling.
* Better yet, see if there is a way to transfer Teletypewriters (TTY) or even Video Relay calls (VRS) can come directly to you!
* Nursing and other staff need to be aware that if you push the “Call nurse” button, they don’t “answer” with “Can I help you?” through a speaker. They need to go into your room to find out more.
6. See if you can have them remove surgical masks (for a short period of time) or better, find out about clear masks for the operating room for surgical or other staff that need to talk with you.
7. The surgeon and anesthesiologist should not do the operation unless emergent. You need to understand the procedure clearly and sign any consents with a qualified interpreter. Make sure an interpreter or other accommodation is available before your surgery happens.
8. Be sure the Emergency Room is aware of interpreter contact information or who to contact when needed.
9. If you are admitted through the Emergency Room or from your doctor’s office, make sure the “floor” you are going to knows about needed interpreters or assistive devices. Let them know what works for you!
10. Work with their Information Technology department for innovative ideas that allow patients (Deaf or hearing!) to check themselves in, provide insurance and other necessary information, interpreter or other accommodations needed, and telephone field modifications so they can include TTY and/or video relay numbers. This can help you if you need to go to the hospital or Emergency Room again.
Where possible, you should inform the hospital of any needs in advance.
In summary, the entire system needs to know what to do when a Deaf or hard of hearing person is in the hospital. Until health care providers and patients work their way through the entire hospital system, what could happen and when, frequently, even health care providers don’t realize how many people come into contact with you! Often, they forget about switchboard operators, food services, transportation and others.
These suggestions help you, the hospital, your doctor, and even hearing patients when they enter the hospital. A happy client will only bring the health care system more business, make life easier for you and others, and provides the hospital with incentives to provide excellent patient safety and quality ratings!