If you have patients who are hard-of-hearing, they may face additional struggles during the current pandemic. Dealing with the changes COVID-19 brought can prove challenging for anyone, but members of this population face barriers others can’t imagine.
As a healthcare professional, you must communicate clearly with all your patients, including those with disabilities. By making minor adjustments to your practice strategies, you can provide an improved standard of care while keeping your patients healthy:
- Provide Written Instructions
Even when you check for understanding, your patients may indicate agreement. That doesn’t necessarily mean they “get it”—they may feel too embarrassed to ask you to repeat yourself. Many members of the hearing-impaired community hesitate to speak up due to past negative experiences with people growing frustrated. Provide written instructions for follow-up care and ask pointed questions to check for understanding. If your handwriting falls into the “doctor” stereotype, make sure your patients can interpret your scribblings before their visit ends.
- Ask About Their Job
Businesses that haven’t shuttered have turned to remote work to remain open during the pandemic. This situation delights many employees. However, telecommunication poses inherent challenges for individuals who are hard-of-hearing. Even before computers existed, they had to use telecommunications devices for the deaf (TTD) to make telephone communication possible. Unfortunately, the new working conditions that many appreciate can create barriers for this community.
For example, if an individual with a hearing impairment can’t hear the computerized instructions for an assignment clearly, it can result in mistakes that jeopardize their continued employment. In a challenging market, losing a position now can lead to long-term economic uncertainty. Worse, because the United States ties health insurance coverage to work, your patients might not have the resources to come in for treatment if they become unemployed.
- Make Adjustments for Lip-Readers
That mask might protect your patients if you cough or sneeze, but it could complicate matters for the hard-of-hearing. Those who rely on lip-reading to communicate now find themselves akin to staring at a blank wall. You can invest in specialty masks with see-through plastic screens to allow lip-readers to see your words as you speak. Additionally, you can have a sign language interpreter on hand when you see patients with hearing impairments. Since you can spread the virus even if you remain asymptomatic, you should avoid lowering your mask.
- Provide Medical Cards
Hopefully, your patients with hearing impairments carry identification that explains their condition to first responders if they ever get injured and struggle to communicate with rescuers. If they lack these items, they may hesitate to spend money on them now, given the economic uncertainty. Providing wallet-sized cards isn’t a necessary gesture, but it’s one that shows your patients you care about their needs.
- Recommend Helpful Apps
Your patients look to you for guidance, even if you don’t specialize in working with the hard-of-hearing. If you can offer advice on the best apps to make their lives more manageable, they’ll often go the extra mile for you—by recommending you to friends and family. Some broad categories to investigate include:
- Transcription apps: Sometimes, people who are hard-of-hearing can struggle to read lips and follow conversations with multiple speakers. These apps translate every utterance into text form.
- Alert apps: If you have a hearing impairment, how do you know when someone knocks on your door? These apps send an alert that causes the patient’s phone to vibrate so they can respond appropriately.
- Entertainment apps: Now that movie theaters are reopening across America, these apps bring the closed-captioning to individual devices so everyone can kick back and enjoy the show.
- Keep Paper and Pens on Hand
Finally, if you have a sizable practice or you work in a hospital, your patients might overlook necessary items, especially if they have their minds on their symptoms or fears. While they should carry an emergency bag, it helps if you keep the following things on hand for their comfort:
- Paper, pens, and a whiteboard: Since written communication works best in many situations, make sure you have ample instruments for doing so—and ensure the pens have ink.
- Extension cords: Some patients will bring electronic devices to aid in communication, but if these gadgets die, they feel helpless. A humble power strip can work wonders for an isolated patient.
- Extra hearing aid batteries: The best hearing aid in the world won’t help much if the batteries fizzle halfway through the conversation. Keep some on hand just in case.
Support Your Hard-of-Hearing Patients During COVID-19
Everyone faces challenges during these times, but your patients with hearing impairments encounter additional hurdles. Help ease their burden with the tips above.
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