Communication Is Critical to Care

By Kathi Mestayer

I recently visited my father, who wears a cochlear implant, in a rehab facility, where he was recovering from surgery.

His room, right next to the nurses’ station, was pretty noisy. There was a constant array of beeps, rings, clanging equipment, and talk. I measured the noise level with my decibel meter smartphone app (AudioTools) and got a reading of around 65 dBA inside the room, about 10 feet from the door. That’s equivalent to normal conversation, but it could make it very difficult for a person with a cochlear implant to correctly understand a medical question.

The rehab center staff was well-meaning, attentive, and caring. But the level of awareness of communication problems for those with hearing loss was spotty.  

  • No captioning phones (and no idea of whether they would work in the facility).  

  • No idea of what a cochlear implant looked like.

  • No way to communicate in writing.

To be fair, that’s not unusual. Earlier this year, I visited my uncle in the hospital. He had had a hearing loss for years. Due to his Parkinson’s disease, he also had a hard time speaking. They were having difficulty getting him to agree to the doctor’s recommendation of a colonoscopy. He was under the mistaken impression that they were talking about a colostomy, and hesitant to agree. Fortunately, I had brought in a whiteboard and marker the day before. I wrote the words “Colonoscopy” and “Colostomy” in big letters on the board, and crossed out “Colostomy” with a big X. He took the write board and wrote “U Sure?” on it. “YES,” I said, nodded, and wrote on the board. He agreed to the procedure on the spot.

I recently became aware of a two-year-old Department of Justice (DoJ) program called the Barrier-Free Healthcare Initiative. The Department of Justice, which also oversees the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has committed resources and attention to the important work of providing, among other things, effective communication for patients with hearing loss in hospitals, pharmacies, rehab facilities, and doctors’ offices.

Useful resources:

Click here to get the full scope of the Barrier-Free Healthcare Initiative.

The ADA’s primer on how to communicate effectively with people who have hearing loss.

And if you’re wondering whether the DoJ is making headway, read updates here including about the success the DoJ has had working with healthcare facilities to help them meet the ADA requirements.  

Kathi Mestayer writes about workplace noise issues. Read her articles here:

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