Inadequate healthcare is received by thousands of the United Kingdom’s Deaf patients because they are struggling to communicate with their healthcare providers, according to an article released on October 1, 2008 in BMJ.

The term Deaf is defined as individuals born Deaf and prefer to communicate in British Sign Language. Michael Paddock and colleagues from Kings College London School of Medicine and South West London and St George’s Mental Healthcare NHS Trust comment on the general lack of awareness of Deaf issues as well as deficit in communication support for Deaf people.

According to the background information in the article, nine million people in the UK are estimated to be hard of hearing, and a number that constitutes almost one-sixth of the population. Studies have shown that 70% of Deaf patients do not have interpreters present in consultations, and 28% of Deaf people limit visits to the general practitioners because they fear poor communication.

This is especially true for Deaf individuals with mental health problems, which accounts for over three million Deaf people at some point in their lives. This means that approximately 40% of Deaf people suffer from mental health problems in contrast with 25% of the general population.

In light of this issue, the use of signed communication is associated with a decrease in mental health problems. the authors of this piece advocate strongly for basic Deaf awareness and the performance of “appropriate” communication methods in the curriculum for medical students. This, they say, will help to assure the proper access to health services for Deaf patients.

A Sensory Awareness program has been developed and implemented already as part of the medical curriculum in King’s College London. Providing students with the skills necessary to enhance communication with Deaf and hearing-impaired patients. This includes training in behaviors such as checking hearing aids and habits that maximize the communication of patients who rely on lip-reading. This module additionally has a part named ‘Deaf Awareness and British Sign Language’, in year three.

The authors of the article make a strong recommendation that, if a medical curriculum is meant to produce competent medical professionals, they should “listen to patients and respond to their concerns and preferences” and “give patients the information they want or need in a way they can understand.” As a result, other medical schools should follow King’s College’s example and offer a similar course to help their students be more attuned to the needs of the Deaf population.

Actions speak louder than words
Michael Paddock, Bernadette O’Neil, Andy Holwell
BMJ 2008;337:a1882
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney