“I rarely go to the doctor myself because of traumatic experiences”: Deaf patients experience communication barriers in NCFL hospitals

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Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 7:47 AM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Imagine being out at lunch with a Deaf colleague when he suddenly has a heart attack. You rush with him to UF Health Shands, only to find once you arrive, he has no way to communicate. Eight hours later an interpreter arrives.

Experiencing this first hand is what inspired research fellow Tyler James to bring the communication challenges Deaf people are faced with in medical environments to light as part of a qualitative health research study.

“Infuriating is the best word I could use to describe it,” James said. “We don’t want to make a patient who is already sick jump through hoops just to under stand their basic medical information.”

Eleven Deaf or Hard of Hearing people from North Central Florida, who primarily use American Sign Language to communicate, were interviewed.

Their experiences at UF Health Shands and North Florida Regional Medical Center were all alike. If an interpreter was not available, a video remote interpreting device would be provided which often wouldn’t work. Doctors would then resort to speaking to the Deaf patient or writing notes back and forth.

“I actually have a picture from a deaf advocate in the Gainesville area who was in an emergency department and a doctor wrote on a brown paper napkin to them,” James said. “Not only were they not being adequately communicated with, but imagine the relegation you feel because you’re being communicated with on a paper napkin as opposed to even a piece of paper.”

James said he was inspired to conduct this research because this issue is not isolated to North Central Florida. He says deaf people report similar experiences across the state and country.

For Yary Santiago, a deaf lecturer at the University of Florida, this means having to reschedule appointments and often times just putting them off to avoid the hassle.

“I rarely go to the doctor myself because of the traumatic experiences I’ve had across Florida,” Santiago added. “For example, in the pandemic I debated long and hard about whether or not to see the doctor and waiting for the pain to subside by itself.”

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She recalls a time when she waited three months for an appointment, only for it to get rescheduled because there was no interpreter or VRI device available.

“It was such an unfortunate experience and it really hit me very hard,” Santiago adds.

Whether in a medical environment or anywhere in the community, the eleven Deaf or Hard of Hearing people interviewed agree that hearing people can do their part by asking preferred form of communication and practicing patience.

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