Communication not a problem for patients or doctors

Originally appeared in Silent News, December 2001.

For many people, the experience of going to see the doctor is a cumbersome and frustrating experience. And of course, many deaf and hard of hearing people have to also worry about whether the doctor knows how to communicate with them or whether the doctor has patience for the extra time involved.

The 230-250 deaf patients who go to the Advocate Medical Group, based near Chicago in Arlington Heights, Ill., don’t have these kinds of worries, because the program offers interpreting services with every medical appointment. The clinic began catering to deaf patients when Dr. Carolyn Stern, who is deaf, established a practice with the Lutheran General Hospital system.

“I pushed for deaf/hard of hearing services and a centralized site within the hospital,” Dr. Stern said, “so that when a deaf or hard of hearing person came into the hospital, there would be a smooth transition no matter where the deaf person was in the hospital.”

Dr. Stern left Advocate Medical Group in 1998 to join her current partner, Dr. Timothy Malia, in establishing a fully accessible office for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing patients, in Rochester, N.Y. The deaf patients were left wondering what would happen to the ease of1 communication with their doctors. Lisa Kivland, who came on staff in 1996 as a staff interpreter, said, “It was decided that the program serving the deaf and hard of hearing community would be kept intact and relocated to another office within the Advocate Medical Group.” A doctor who was affiliated with the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA), Dr. Benjamin Hasan, took over the deaf patient base with the use of an interpreter.

“At first, deaf patients were reluctant to change from their deaf doctor to a new doctor with an interpreter in the exam room,” Kivland remembered. But this was soon overcome when the patients realized it was as convenient as having a deaf doctor.

“I had a family doctor that I could not lip-read or write back and forth with because the doctor was from a different country,” Tom Nedved of Elgin, Ill., said. He found out about the Advocate program from a friend and decided to try the services with his wife, Carla. They immediately found the services to their liking. “It is a wonderful opportunity. This way, there is no misunderstanding with the doctors and the interpreter.”

Today, although Dr. Hasan has moved onto different opportunities, the clinic has six family practice doctors and two pediatricians who are familiar with deaf and hard of hearing needs and provide routine health care. The clinic works with most insurance companies, and has a 24-hour answering service that is TTY-accessible, according to Kivland. If a patient needs more specialized services, they are sent to a specialist in collaboration with the clinic, with the services of an interpreter. Kivland works closely with Lutheran General Hospital Patient Relations/Patient Services Department to ensure that appointments are filled and interpreters – usually certified – are provided that suit the patient’s needs. “The hospital has been very committed to providing quality communication services to the deaf population.”

Dr. Stern is pleased with how the program has developed with her initial efforts. “I am happy that Lutheran General and Advocate Medical Group has continued its commitment to serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community,” she said. “I am proud of my achievement, but more importantly, for the Deaf community, I am happy that the Deaf Services within Advocate continue to do well!”

“We will get the best care there,” Nedved said. “There is total communication. We are very comfortable and very confident with the doctor and interpreter services available for the deaf patients.”

“We’d love to have another deaf doctor or a physician that signs, but in reality, it’s the attitude towards the population that really counts,” Kivland stated. “Every deaf patient deserves the ability to communicate effectively with their physicians.”

People interested in this program may contact the Advocate Medical Group deaf/hard of hearing services at (847) 640-4426 TTY.

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