Monday, June 08, 2009

Hard of Hearing? Suggestions for the Health Care Setting.

Last year one branch of my family had a large reunion luncheon that included slide shows and oral history presentations. The event organizers made certain that an excellent sound system was in place within our modest venue. Our common ancestor, "Granddad Colley," passed some very prolific genes down to us. One striking feature very obvious among the attendees was the abundance of pre-maturely silver-white hair. Less obvious, but very well-known within our family is the tendency to inherit Great-Granddad's severe age-related-hearing loss. Some of my older cousins actually recall Great-Granddad using an ear trumpet to amplify sound. Other cousins who thought Great-Grandma was rather mean for yelling at Great-Granddad so much, now concede that might have been her strategy to communicate through the hearing loss.

In the health-care setting, patients with hearing loss may try to cope by keeping quiet, pretending that they have understood the information that was provided, and by providing incomplete or incorrect answers to questions they may have misunderstood.

The Americans with Disabilities Act insists that individuals who suffer from deafness or other hearing loss be guaranteed equal access to health information and appropriate communication in hospitals and nursing homes as well as in doctor's offices. The National Association of the Deaf provides insight about what the law requires in a list of frequently asked questions including this example: "Q. Why are auxiliary aids and services so important in medical settings? A. Auxiliary aids and services are often needed to provide safe and effective medical treatment. Without these aids and services, medical staff run the grave risk of not understanding the patient's symptoms, misdiagnosing the patient's medical problem, and prescribing inadequate or even harmful treatment. Similarly, patients may not understand medical instructions and warnings or prescription guidelines."

The American Academy of Family Physicians' tips for working with your doctor if you are hard of hearing offers some good suggestions as follow:

In the waiting room

Unless the health care facility issues you a vibrating pager or uses lighted boards to indicate "who is next," it may be difficult to hear that it's your turn to be seen. Upon arrival, be sure to explain to the receptionist that announcing your name or number is not the best way to inform you that the doctor is ready to see you.

Don't be shy

As difficult and embarrassing as it may be, advocating for yourself is of the utmost importance. Do ask for a quiet, well-lit room in which to converse with your health care provider.

  • Do ask for privacy if a health care provider starts to loudly discuss private matters with you in a public space.

  • Do ask your health care workers to speak clearly to you in a face-to-face posture with their mouths unobstructed.

  • Do remind your doctor or nurse that if they must wear a mask for a procedure, you will not be able to understand their spoken words and therefore require instructions before hand.

  • Do not allow your health care provider to dismiss you until your questions have been answered and the answers clarified to your satisfaction.

Personally, in the hospital setting I like to have a letter-sized word document posted just above the head of the patient's bed at care-giver eye-level. The boldly printed document serves as a visual reminder that the "patient is hard of hearing--please speak loudly and clearly." If and when the Colley hearing-loss gene affects me, I think I'll carry something like that in my purse, just in case.

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