Are You Risking Unnecessary Time and Expense on Claims with Hearing Impaired Employees?
By: Claudia Rial, MBA – Vice President of Operations
Communication is essential to exchange ideas, information, build and maintain personal and business relationships and promote understanding.
Hearing loss impairs and disrupts interpersonal communications and interferes with quality of life on many levels, but especially for communications relating to medical care.
48 Million Hearing Impaired Americans
According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), 48 million Americans are deaf or suffer from hearing loss.
The CDC reports:
- 12% of all workers have hearing difficulty
- 8% of all workers have tinnitus
- 16% of noise-exposed tested workers have a material hearing impairment
Hearing Impairment Impacts Overall Wellness
Hearing loss not only affects a person’s ability to communicate, but it can also impact mental health, often leading to depression and social isolation. A recent study conducted by Clear Living explored the impact of hearing loss on mental wellbeing and lifestyle and 89% of the 3700+ respondents cited, ”social and personal problems” as a result of their hearing loss.
More importantly, the study says, “…poor conversation was cited as the biggest negative side effect of hearing loss, with almost 40% of users claiming that their communication had worsened or was harder to follow due to their hearing loss.” So imagine how poor communications can lead to inferior outcomes for injured workers who are hearing impaired.
Hearing impairment also puts workers in jeopardy from accessing appropriate and timely healthcare, or from understanding instructions from healthcare professionals when receiving treatment. Communication complications or misunderstandings can occur frequently when caring for hearing-impaired injured workers in healthcare provider settings such as the physician’s offices, emergency rooms, and outpatient clinics. When this happens, time and costs start to pile up.
Pandemic Makes Matters Worse for Hearing Impaired Depending on Sign Language
The pandemic has only complicated matters. Masks muffle sounds and prevent lip reading. Family members or friends who are fluent in sign language are no longer permitted to accompany the hearing impaired injured worker to see the physician.
Even if a healthcare provider has a sign language interpreter, there is no guarantee the interpreter and hearing-impaired worker are “speaking the same language” as there are between 138 and 300 types of sign language used internationally.
Luckily, there are a number of services in place to help the hearing-impaired injured worker navigate the healthcare system safely and effectively, during COVID and beyond.
When the physician and the hearing-impaired injured worker are in two separate locations, text-based telecommunications such as the Teletypewriter (TTY), Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), and Text Telephone (TT) have proven to be effective. These wireless messaging systems allow those who are hearing-impaired to use a landline or cell phone to communicate by sending an email, fax, or text-to-speech message. The belief is that this type of technology will become more widespread as more cell phones become compatible with TTY and hearing aids.
In-Person Sign Language Interpreters Always The Best Solution
Whenever possible, in-person interpreters proficient in American Sign Language (ASL) for deaf and hearing-impaired workers are always the most natural and effective solution. In addition to the restrictions, the pandemic has brought, what happens when an appropriate ASL interpreter is not available due to geographic or time constraints or are not permitted on the premises due to COVID safety restrictions? Or if the sign language interpreter does not “speak” the same sign language?
VRI Language Services for Sign Language Second-Best Solution
Along with interpreters for 200+ foreign languages, Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) leverages a national network of ASL interpreters who, using a videophone device, assists with communication. Available 24/7/365 days a year, VRI is economical, secure and private, HIPAA-compliant, and as effective as an in-person interpreter. VRI prevents delays in medical treatment, promotes accurate communication, allows for appropriate follow-up care, all contributing to a speedier recovery and return to work.
Research shows, “deaf patients report positive experiences in health care encounters when medically experienced professional sign language interpreters are present.”
Benefits of VRI for Deaf or Hearing Impaired
As with offering foreign language interpreters, for Limited English Proficient (LEP) the major benefits of providing ASL interpretation through VRI include:
- Fewer unnecessary diagnostic tests, hospital readmissions, and emergency room visits
- Faster medical follow-up and adherence to treatment recommendations
- Higher patient satisfaction
VRI Proves to Be A Reliable and Cost-Effective Solution
Interpreters are essential to help deaf and hearing-impaired workers receive whatever language support they need to maximize communications and ensure a clear understanding of their care plan. Though technology offers many promising alternatives, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. With a lack of a universal sign language, offering ASL interpreters through VRI has proven to be one of the most cost-effective ways to provide healthcare services to deaf or hearing impaired injured workers without geographic or time limitations.
Saving time, facilitating appropriate care, and working towards patient satisfaction always leads to better outcomes in workers’ compensation.