6 EMS assessment tips for deaf and hard of hearing patients

Updated March 30, 2015

Learn how you can accurately assess deaf or hard of hearing patients under extra challenging conditions

EMS providers are likely to encounter patients that are deaf or hard of hearing. How would you learn the chief complaint of a patient who cannot hear your question? I asked Neil McDevitt, Program Director of the Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network, TDI, to share some tips for assessing and treating patients that are deaf or hard of hearing. Here are his tips:

1. Hearing loss and communication skills vary.

Some people cannot hear anything, but are still able to speak clearly. Others can hear quite a bit, but have great speech difficulty.

2. Not every deaf or hard-of-hearing person can lip-read.

Even a great lip-reader may have great difficulty when ill or injured. Some rescuers are not lip-readable due to mouth structure, facial hair, or vocal accent.

3. Speak simply and clearly.

Speaking louder or slower often makes you less understandable. It's better to simply speak clearly.

4. Gestures complement verbal communication skills.

They're also useful with people who don't speak English or have cognitive disabilities.

5. Use facial expressions since many emotions are easily read.

For example, raised eyebrows indicate a question. Raising your eyebrows while pointing to your wrist asks, "Did you hurt your wrist?"

6. Offer communication assistance.

Ask the patient if he or she needs any communication services at the hospital and call ahead to request those services, like an American Sign Language interpreter.

Practice Neil's tips by doing "silent" patient assessment drills. Neil believes that "most emergency services workers are already fluent in non-verbal communication. It won't be easy, but with some knowledge and practice, they will get the job done." Above all else, ASK the patient how you can work together to make communication successful.

Neil McDevitt is the Program Director for Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc's (TDI) Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network (CEPIN) project and manages delivery of its DHS-certified "Emergency Responders and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community: Taking the First Steps to Disaster Preparedness" curriculum. As a volunteer firefighter in suburban Philadelphia, McDevitt is one of a handful of emergency responders in the country who are also profoundly deaf. He has provided fire safety presentations to deaf children and adults and given non-verbal communication classes to firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

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