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November 29, 2004

Hearing impaired minority lost in British waiting room

Doctors and nurses fail to communicate properly with hearing impaired patients. In England, one hearing impaired patient in three encounters problems when dealing with the public health system.

A comprehensive survey conducted by RNID paints a grim picture of the interaction between hearing impaired Englishmen and their National Health System, NHS. As a group, hearing impaired people are in frequent contact with the NHS, but the service they receive leaves much to be desired.

According to an RNID estimate, inattention to the needs of hearing impaired patients costs the health system about GBP 20 million annually due to patients' failure to show up for appointments because of misunderstandings.

The survey indicated that 32 percent of the hearing impaired patients find it difficult to talk with their doctors. As a result, 15 percent fail entirely to seek help.

Making an appointment is in itself seen as problematic. Calling the doctor's office is seen as a steep barrier by 28 percent.

Among those who go to the doctor, 35 percent indicated that they were uncertain about the outcome of their visit because they were unable to understand the doctor because of their hearing impairment. However, many do not even make it that far. Nearly one hearing impaired patient in four reported that they had missed one or more appointments because they were unable to hear when called upon in the waiting room or other such communication problems.

- The NHS can easily address this situation with simple and cost-effective solutions. Minor investment in simple technologies will improve access and help lower the number of missed appointments. However, to be truly effective, this investment needs to be addressed by deaf awareness training for all frontline NHS staff, said RNID Chief Executive John Low to the magazine, Oneinseven.

Source: RNID, One in seven, issue 40, April/May 2004

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