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Patients with Communication Problems are at Risk of Hospital Complications

The prospect of hospitalization is scary. Nobody likes being sick, and even less so having to undergo medical treatment in a hospital. But for people who have communication problems including impaired hearing a hospital stay is fraught with additional challenges. You may ask yourself: Will I be able to express myself clearly? Will the health care provider understand me? Or, the worst-case scenario: What if I dont receive proper medical care because of my inability to communicate?

It goes without saying that effective communication is especially crucial in health care settings where misunderstandings could result in misdiagnosis and / or improper treatment.

As one Canadian study shows, such cases do, unfortunately, exist.

Worrisome Statistics

Several years ago, the researchers reviewed 2,355 charts of adult patients at 20 randomly selected hospitals in the Quebec province.

They found evidence to suggest that patients with communication problems appeared to be susceptible to preventable adverse events, defined as an unintended injury or complication caused by the delivery of clinical care rather than by the patient's underlying condition." These events, study findings show, occur three times more often among patients with communication problems than in general population.

The hearing impairment is not the only condition classified under the rather large umbrella of communication disorders. They also include blindness, inability to speak, psychiatric disorders, and any other health issue that prevents the patient from hearing, understanding or conveying messages to and from the hospital staff.

Complications resulting from medical care received at a hospital, the study shows, occurred more frequently in patients over age 65. The most common adverse effects were caused by the medication, inappropriate or delayed treatment, or failure to monitor a patient's condition.

The message here is clear: If you suffer from hearing loss or deafness, there are several ways to ensure an effective communication with your health care providers, clearing up potential misunderstandings before they occur or create problems. The answer is two-fold: know your rights and protect yourself.

A Proactive Patient

The measures you should take to protect yourself will depend on the severity of your hearing loss.

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, keep in mind that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all hospitals must have a policy in place for evaluating hearing-impaired patients to determine if they need effective means of communication, including interpretive services.

That applies to all the hospital services, including the emergency room, surgery, in- and outpatient departments, your discussion of symptoms with medical personnel, the doctors presentation of diagnosis and treatment options, therapy sessions, and even filling out admission forms and medical history charts.

In addition, all the medical and hospital staff must be trained to communicate in an effective way with the deaf or hard-of-hearing patients, ensuring that there are no misunderstandings.

Equip Your Ear

And what happens if you are not deaf and thus dont need the interpreter - but suffer from hearing loss?

The answer is simpler than you may think.

Chances are that if you have hearing impairment, you wear a hearing aid (and if you dont, you should). Many people remove the hearing aids from their ears for the fear of losing them. Indeed, hearing aids, along with dentures and glasses, are the most commonly lost items in hospitals. But look at it this way: removing the hearing aid from your ear greatly diminishes your ability to communicate clearly and effectively, therefore making you vulnerable to the risk of misunderstandings and, subsequently, inferior medical care.

Its fine to put your hearing aid in a safe place if you have a friend or a family member with you to facilitate communication. But if you are alone, keep it where it belongs in your ear. Also inform the hospital staff you are hearing impaired and wear hearing aids. This should be noted in your chart so staff ensures your hearing aids are being worn when communicating with you.

After all, the hospital is one place where you definitely want to be heard and understood.

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