Logo for Signhealth, the deaf charity

Search the site

12 tips for communicating with Deaf patients

Communication barriers are the number one reason Deaf people have had poorer health compared to hearing people.

Booking an appointment

It actually starts with making an appointment. In some places, Deaf patients still have to walk into their surgery to book time with their doctor, because of the lack of SMS, email or online appointment systems.

Reception

Have a system to call people into the consulting room which doesn’t rely on shouting out their name.

Tips for communicating with Deaf patients

  • Book an interpreter. A patient should not use a friend or family member to interpret for them. They will not know medical jargon or be trained to interpret health information, but most importantly, your patient will have no independence or privacy if a friend or family member accompanies them.
  • Talk directly to your patient, not the person interpreting for them.
  • Make sure you have your patient’s attention before talking.
  • Maintain eye contact whilst communicating. Don’t talk to your patient whilst looking at your computer screen,  filling out paperwork or turning around. Avoid covering your mouth with your hands or paper.
  • Use normal lip movement. You don’t need to over exaggerate each word, and don’t mumble, because this can make it difficult to lip-read.
  • Speak at a normal volume. Shouting can be uncomfortable for a patient wearing hearing aids.
  • Make sure the room is well lit so that the patient can see your face clearly.
  • Speak in plain English at a normal speed. 
  • Use written notes or diagrams to assist if you are having difficulty explaining something. But remember that Deaf people have different communication needs, so writing information down won’t be helpful for everyone.  If your patient doesn’t understand you, try and think of a different way to explain yourself rather than repeating the same words again.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions to help explain yourself. Show with your face if something is painful, scary, or nothing to worry about.
  • Point to parts of your body if necessary.
  • Keep checking to make sure your patient understands you.  If your patient doesn’t understand you, try and think of a different way to explain yourself.

It’s vital that the surgery/hospital (not the patient) book an interpreter in advance of the patient’s appointment. This is a basic right for Deaf people and one that will ensure your patient has a clear understanding of their health and the information you are telling them.

To book an interpreter, visit the NRCPD website.

How healthy are Deaf people?

Sick Of It is SignHealth’s ground-breaking report uncovering the health disparity Deaf people face in the UK. Published in 2014, the report has influenced policy and changed practices in the NHS to improve communication and reduce barriers.

Report: Sick Of It

Why does SignHealth provide specialist services?

There are a number of gaps in service provisions that can significantly impact the health and wellbeing of Deaf people. We provide psychological therapy, domestic abuse support, advocacy, outreach and residential services to support Deaf people who would otherwise struggle due to communication barriers.

We are working to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people. Please consider donating today.

two women walking and signing