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January 26, 2004

Better Health Care For The Deaf

From: Champlain - Jan 26, 2004

BACKGROUND: Nearly 1.5 million people rely on the use of sign language because they are deaf. Another 28 million Americans have some form of hearing loss or "nerve deafness" caused by the damage or deterioration of hair cells in the inner ear. Although many people lose their hearing as they age, hearing loss can also come from loud noise, illness, infections, head trauma, birth defects, certain drugs, or the mumps and measles.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: One common complaint deaf people have is the waiting time for an interpreter. Sometimes they show up late or don't show up at all. A new system called Deaf-Talk is designed to eliminate the waiting time. Here's how it works: a hospital subscribes to the Deaf-Talk system. It rents the equipment and installs ISDN lines in all areas where they want to use the system. ISDN is a technology capable of transmitting data at speeds of up to 128K. When a deaf patient comes in, the doctor or nurse calls the toll-free number and asks to be connected. An interpreter connects the videoconference units. The interpreter can see the patient and the patient can see the interpreter. The interpreter can hear the doctor and nurse and sign to the patient and then speak what the patient is signing.

WHERE CAN THEY BE USED? The Deaf-Talk system is currently installed in more than 150 locations around the country. Many hospitals install multiple ISDN lines, but only rent one mobile unit. Some hospitals use the system in the emergency room, labor and delivery, outpatient and inpatient areas, recovery rooms, and radiology among others. Cathy O'Neill, director of nursing for the Emergency Department at Mercy Medical Center said her staff likes the system. She said, "They like it because they can take care of the patient faster. They know what's going on and it's very easy to hook up." O'Neill said that it's especially helpful for emergency situations or when women go into labor because they can get an interpreter within two minutes. She said another benefit is increased privacy for deaf patients because the unit can be turned on and off as needed rather than a live interpreter staying in the room for the entire visit.

EXPERIENCE OF INTERPRETERS: According to the company, the translators generally have more than 10 years of experience in translating for medical situations. All of the interpreters are certified to proper levels by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the National Association for the Deaf or the highest state certification. They have translated for severe medical emergencies where the patient and/or family members were deaf, for sensitive preoperative consent, for complex discharge treatment plans and for decisions affecting patients who have died or who are terminal. They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

COST: Hospitals are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an interpreter if requested. They must pay for the time the interpreter is there, whether they are working or waiting. With Deaf-Talk, the system is rented and the hospital pays per minute. O'Neill said saving money was not the motivation to use the system, but it is an added benefit.

Dave Stauffer Vice President, Deaf-Talk
607 Washington Road, Suite 302
Pittsburgh, PA 15228
(877) 229-8119

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