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October 15, 2002

Strong delivers signs of care for deaf patients elsewhere

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY
Oct. 15, 2002

Hospital provides interpreters for doctor-patient discussions

By Matt Leingang
Democrat and Chronicle

(October 15, 2002) — Raquel Kasperski tells the doctor that her 6-month-old son, Ryan, is gaining weight.

“That’s a good sign for a growing baby,” says Dr. Tuan Huynh, as he examines Ryan during a routine checkup at University Primary Care in Olean, Cattaraugus County, about 50 miles south of Buffalo near the Pennsylvania border.

But neither the mother nor the doctor can understand anything the other is saying: Raquel is deaf, and Dr. Huynh doesn’t know sign language.

They communicate with help from an interpreter who is 120 miles away at Strong Memorial Hospital. The interpreter is on a television screen, being beamed through cyberspace with video conference technology.

This three-way conversation is possible through a new program developed at the University of Rochester Medical Center, which owns Strong.

The medical center is trying to take the teleconferencing program nationwide -- not only to make it easier for deaf patients to access experienced, certified interpreters but also to compete for sign language services in other markets.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires hospitals and physician practices to provide sign language interpreters for deaf patients -- a difficult requirement to meet in some cases, especially in rural, scarcely populated areas where an interpreter can’t easily be located in a minute’s notice.

“Unfortunately, not everyone is in compliance with this mandate,” said Kathy Miraglia, manager of Interpretive Services at Strong.

Beginning last year, Strong tested the teleconferencing program at three locations: University Primary Care and the emergency rooms at Olean General Hospital and Erie County Medical Centers in Buffalo.

Kasperski, 34, asked doctors to use the technology in the delivery room when she gave birth to Ryan on March 30.

“It gave me peace of mind,” said Kasperski, who lives in Olean.

In the past, Kasperski had to settle for interpreters provided by an area referral service. While she appreciated their help, they weren’t always fluent in medical terminology.

“I would get bits and pieces of what the doctor was saying,” Kasperski said. “Now I’m much more confident that I’m getting accurate medical information.”

Occasionally, however, there are glitches -- sound or video gets interrupted and images on the screen get frozen. But Miraglia said the bugs are being worked out and a support staff is ready to address any problems.

Strong has offered in-house sign language interpreters for more than 20 years. Rochester has one of the largest per capita populations of deaf people in the country. Exact numbers aren’t available, but an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 deaf people, and tens of thousands who are hard of hearing, live in the area.

Plans to take the video conferencing technology to other markets are taking shape. Strong has a contract with a referral service in Philadelphia to provide weekend coverage for hospitals there. The three trial sites may also become paying customers.

Subscription fees vary, depending on patient volume.

For medical centers that treat an average of four deaf patients a month, the monthly subscription is about $200, plus a calling fee of $3.75 per minute. Subscriptions for higher-volume centers are about $800.

In the future, the service may go beyond sign language and offer interpreting services for Spanish and other spoken languages, Miraglia said.

Copyright 2002 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.