Hearing-impaired patients experience gap in medical help

Published On: May 07 2014 10:16:23 PM HST   Updated On: May 07 2014 10:23:45 PM HST

It's stressful enough being sick or injured. Now imagine not being able to communicate with the doctor trying to help you.

Advocates say more and more hearing impaired people are running into that very situation in Hawaii. It's not only frustrating, but it could be dangerous.

Click here to watch Nana Ohkawa's report.

Now the state's reminding doctors that having interpreters is not optional.

Linda Lambrecht says she's told time and time again that she needs to provide her own interpreter at hospitals and doctor offices.

She's one of many hearing impaired or deaf patients who claim they do not get proper services.

"I remember one time I had to go to the doctor's office and I thought we could go ahead and communicate without the interpreter by writing back and forth. The doctor had so much to say and what he wrote was too complex and the communication failed," said deaf patient Linda Lambrecht.

Communication can't fail in emergency situations.

Francine Wai with the Disability Communication Access Board says now more than ever her office is getting flooded with complaints.

"Our office receives so many calls about providing interpreter services and legal rights and by far the most difficult setting is a health care setting," Wai.

Wai says there are not as many interpreters as the state should have, particularly on neighbor islands, and that doctors may not know how to handle the cost of one.

Sen. Josh Green is an emergency room doctor.

"There are nuances in that moment in a person's expression in desperation that can be conveyed with having someone right there," said Green.

He says from his experience that some doctors may not realize they're obligated by law to provide a qualified sign language interpreter.

"A lot of health care providers, doctors in particular, aren't aware that it's a law that we provide these services," said Green.

State agencies created two educational brochures for patients to bring to health care providers. Inside of the brochure it defines the rights of the hearing impaired.

"A normal physician will see more than a hundred patients a week, so every physician should likely be seeing someone who has this need and service requirement," said Green.

Click here to find more information on the brochures.


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