South Florida Hospital News
Saturday September 19, 2020
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March 2006 - Volume 2 - Issue 9
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Sign-Language Video Interpreting Improves Communication, Reduces Risk for Hospitals

A deaf person requiring medical care arrives at a hospital. Staff members ask questions and try to bridge the communications gap with the patient, but no on-site American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is immediately available and they are unable to gather or convey essential data.

This challenging situation can occur at any time of day or night, during busy holiday weekends and when weather conditions are most severe. As portrayed in recent television dramas and reported in national news, a communications gap can impede a hospital’s ability to deliver quality care to a deaf patient in a timely or life-saving manner. Regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act are clear: A hospital or physician must provide upon request an ASL interpreter for a deaf patient.

Hospitals have historically bridged the gap by commissioning an agency ASL interpreter to come to the emergency room or other patient site for sign-language assistance – a process that requires coordination and travel time – and can create delays in diagnosis or treatment especially when a few minutes can make the difference between life and death.

Now, however, an increasing number of hospitals are using on-demand ASL video interpreting services to supplement on-site assistance. Available 24/7, nationally certified ASL interpreters can be accessed via Internet or telecommunications line, and can appear on a nearby video screen within minutes. A mobile screen can be operated and maintained side-by-side other hospital equipment that is ready for use when needed.

"Throughout much of the United States, the availability of on-site or agency ASL interpreters can be limited and video interpreting is often the best solution," said Robert W. Fisher, President, DT Interpreting and Deaf Talk, LLC, based in Pittsburgh. "While there is no replacement for an on-site ASL interpreter, remote video conferencing is a user-friendly, practical accommodation that addresses a vital need in many cases."


Sign-Language Video Interpreting is helping an increasing number of hospitals nationwide to bridge the communications gap with deaf individuals, as well as with non-English-speaking patients. An American Sign Language interpreter is available within minutes via a mobile video screen.

DT Interpreting (DT) is a service of Deaf-Talk, LLC, a company established in 1999 by Fisher and C. David Stauffer, Vice President, as an outgrowth of their interest in video conferencing equipment and applications. Earlier in their careers, the founders each held executive positions in the mining and heavy equipment industries.

DT is collaborating with Sony to optimize remote teleconferencing capabilities by using Sony Video Communication Technology and IPELA PSC-TL30 video screens in hospitals. Sony has endorsed DT’s goal to make ASL communications between health care professionals and deaf patients easy and timely particularly in emergencies.

"ASL is the fourth most spoken language in the United States. About 1.5 million of the profoundly deaf use ASL as their first language of communication," Fisher explained. "We currently assist more than 200 hospitals nationwide through ASL video interpreting, as well as provide video, audio and written interpretations and translations for 150 spoken languages."

Barbara Nealon, Social Service and Multicultural Service Manager at Heywood Hospital, a 134-bed community hospital in Gardner, Massachusetts, told how Heywood installed its video interpreting equipment and is adding units and wiring the entire facility for extended access.

"We arranged for a face-to-face ASL interpreter to assist a deaf patient scheduled for outpatient surgery. When the interpreter failed to show up at the designated time, everyone became concerned because we needed to educate the deaf patient about the procedure and did not want to postpone surgery," Nealon said. "So we moved a mobile video unit to the outpatient surgery area and arranged for a temporary connection to the existing telecommunications port. This allowed us to access an ASL interpreter within minutes and proceed with the patient education and surgery, as well as speak with her later when she awakened in the recovery room. Since then, we have obtained grant funding to install additional units in areas other than the E.R."

Nealon considers sign-language video conferencing a supplemental service and "the right thing to do for patients." She said favorable feedback has been generated by patient and staff satisfaction surveys, and cites reliability and cost-savings as advantages.

"In our community, there are few face-to-face ASL interpreters and certainly no one who is available at all hours of the day. The turn-around time for a face-to-face interpreter ranges from four-to-24 hours or maybe not at all. In comparison, the Deaf-Talk system usually takes five-to-10 minutes to bring an ASL interpreter on line."

From a budget standpoint, Nealon noted the affordability and clear-cut payment structure of video conferencing, which entails a hospital’s purchasing the mobile unit, then paying a monthly subscription fee and fixed rate-per-minute when the system is used. Hospitals generally pay an agency ASL interpreter an hourly fee with a minimum, plus travel and mileage expenses.

Nealon recalled, "I had an awakening when I received a $1,700 bill from a face-to-face ASL interpreter who had assisted a deaf patient during an EKG that took less than one hour to complete. It became clear to me that we needed to explore options."

At Frisbee Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New Hampshire, staff and family members also see the value.

"This service can reduce worries," said Hillary Douglass, Community Relations Manager.

Leslie Allain, mother of a deaf patient, said, "It puts Hunter at ease immediately to see someone signing to him. For me, we are able to get the answers right away."

Ruth Henderson, Emergency Room Nurse Manager, said, "This is an exciting piece of technology... It’s like "Velcro® or Post-It® notes. Once you start using it, you can't imagine what you did without it."

Michele Rothert, consultant to DT Interpreting and principal of Esteta Communications, can be reached at (412) 322-0281 mr@estetacommunications.com.

For more information about DT Interpreting, call 877-229-8119, email info@dtinterpreting.com or visit their website at http://www.dtinterpreting.com.

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