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Deaf awareness week: how to support patients with hearing impairments

Hi there! This is Kirtana, an IMG from India. I’m currently working as a Psychiatry Junior Doctor at South Cumbria. I have a passion for mental health and considering the ongoing Deaf awareness week, would like to emphasize how to support patients with hearing impairments.

Like mental health, deafness is not a visible condition, hence hard of hearing people can feel misunderstood, unseen, invisible and isolated.

Did you know?

There are ten million people with deafness and hard of hearing in the UK alone, with either mild or profound hearing loss, which is one in six of us. This year’s theme is ‘Deaf Inclusion’. It is to highlight the impact of hearing loss on everyday life and increase the visibility and inclusion of Deaf people. Emphasising the importance of mental health and empathising with underrepresented groups amongst the deaf. It is also to advocate the constructive aspects of living with deafness and raise awareness of the isolation they can experience and promote the importance of social inclusion.

As a doctor in the NHS, “We as a profession have a duty to maintain a good standard of practice and care towards our patients” (source – GMC). Hence, good communication and interpersonal skills are crucial to any consultation. Like mental health, deafness is not a visible condition, hence hard of hearing people can feel misunderstood, unseen, invisible and isolated. When you must rely on non-verbal cues to build a rapport with a patient, it is particularly important to be more supportive of the patient and understand their inability to articulate their basic needs.

The ongoing pandemic and the continued mask-wearing have made it more difficult for the deaf to communicate and this has led to reduced access to healthcare services, prolonged illness, and unfortunate consequences.

Tips for supporting patients with hearing impairments

1. Provide information in the most accessible way. NHS has pamphlets/booklets for every concern you would like to discuss with a patient - from lifestyle change you want to address, medications prescribed, services that are there for them to access or to throw light on an illness. These are available in printable forms which you could share in a consultation, but also soft copies and web resources that can be shared with the patient.

2. Position yourself during a consultation. Make sure there is good lighting in the room so that the patient can see you clearly and minimal background noise. Facing directly helps both parties set good eye contact and gives them a chance to read your lips. Avoiding writing in a book or seeing the computer during the consultation helps them in maintaining eye contact.

3. Communication. Never shout! If the patient is on a hearing aid that could be distressing for them. It is also advisable to not talk too fast or exaggerate your lip movements. It is vital to use full sentences, avoid medical jargon and abbreviations as these provide contextual cues. Using facial expressions to express yourself could reassure them that you are considerate.

4. Patience. There might be the need to repeat yourself to make sure the patient understands you and paraphrasing it that may help them better comprehend the information. To get better clarity, writing or drawing it out would be reasonable. Using gestures and mime to help explain what you are saying also aids. It is important to chuck and check, as it's key that they get all the right knowledge to take a well thought thorough decision about their healthcare.

5. If all of the above does not work, it is still not too late to learn British Sign Language! It could be a hobby that might fascinate you, but you never know, one day it might have an enormous impact on someone! It could help someone feel heard 😊

Would like to know more?

If you have any questions feel free to ask on the TrewLink website, I would be happy to help.

If you found our blog articles helpful, please share them with your IMG friends & colleagues who may also benefit from reading our blog.

Good luck,

Dr Kirtana

Written by Kirtana

Edited by Julia


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