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Video Interpretation for Patients With Hearing Loss

by Kathryn Jackson
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In health care settings, effective communication is vital. Miscommunication during diagnoses or post-discharge treatment plans can lead to serious consequences. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires hospitals to provide effective communication means for patients, families and hospital visitors.

Fortunately, technology advances mean hospitals can offer patients and their families video remote interpreting (VRI). VRI allows patients to communicate with audiologists, speech-language pathologists, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in their native or preferred language—including various forms of manual or signed language—and receive access to quality care.

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Sign language interpreters have been providing remote video services for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community (HOH) since 2000; however, not all individuals with hearing loss use American Sign Language (ASL). As with spoken languages, sign language comes in many versions, modes and dialects. VRI technology also makes certified deaf interpreters (CDIs) available to bridge communication barriers with patients who use another form of manual language. These specialists maintain a thorough understanding of Deaf culture and the diverse visual language modalities used by people within the culture.

How do CDIs work?

In addition to a certified deaf interpreter, the communications team also includes a certified hearing interpreter. In this process, CDIs interpret spoken English messages (relayed by the hearing interpreter) into a visual form of communication matching the specific linguistic needs of the patient with hearing loss. Once they express the accurate message to the patient, the CDI relays the patient’s message using ASL. The hearing interpreter then renders the ASL message back into spoken English.

In the realm of health care, time is of the essence and can mean the difference between life and death. VRI gives patients who are Deaf and HOH immediate access to meaningful communication without having to wait for a CDI team to arrive onsite. Certain situations, however, call for onsite interpretation. Consider using onsite interpreters for delicate conversations, such as end-of-life care discussions. In-person discussions also work better for patients with a visual impairment or if other environmental factors compromise the integrity of the video connection. If onsite communication is preferred, VRI teams can serve as the initial bridge to communication and then facilitate a seamless transition once an onsite team arrives.

Engaging patients post-discharge

To better support patients with hearing loss after discharge, case managers and care coordinators can use VRI to connect, using interpreters as needed. These remote video options help patients who are Deaf and HOH receive the proper care and treatment by improving communication and understanding of their personal health care plans and options. Using CDIs through virtual technology helps patients stay informed, engaged and on track with treatment protocols. VRI also gives patients privacy for health care conversations, which can be especially challenging when using an interpreter.

When hospitals use video remote interpreting, accompanying tools and a willingness to match linguistic needs of a diverse patient population, they demonstrate their dedication to providing quality care to patients who are Deaf and HOH.


Kathryn Jackson directs language operations for Stratus Video. She also has more than 30 years’ experience interpreting for people with hearing loss. Jackson is also a member of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the International Medical Interpreters Organization, and is a lifelong Buckeye. ContactUs@stratusvideo.com

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