Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing: Tips for Working With Your Doctor

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In the waiting room

If you have trouble hearing, tell the receptionist that calling your name isn't the best way to tell you that the doctor is ready to see you. Ask him or her to come and get you or get your attention visually when the doctor is ready for you.

If you are deaf and use sign language

  • Good communication with your doctor is important. If you prefer to have a sign language interpreter, ask for one when you make your appointment.
  • Ask a friend or relative to be your interpreter. However, you should ask someone that you are comfortable with because your doctor may need to ask you personal questions.
  • You can help your doctor find the right interpreter by explaining the type of sign language you use (American Sign Language, Signed English, Pidgin Signed English, Visual-Gestural Communication, or the sign language of another country). If the interpreter is certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, you can feel sure about confidentiality.

If you are hard-of-hearing, or if you are deaf and rely on spoken language

  • If you are hard-of-hearing you may feel embarrassed sometimes. You may feel awkward saying that you didn't understand what was said. Sometimes you might pretend to hear something you didn't. You may feel that it isn't right to interrupt your doctor. But to get good medical care, try not to be shy about your communication needs when you visit your doctor.
  • Ask for a quiet, well-lit room, without glare. It will also help if the room has curtains and carpets. Ask the doctor to speak clearly, to face you, to keep his or her mouth visible, and to repeat and rephrase as needed.
  • If you need a procedure or exam, complete your conversation in a quieter room before moving to the exam room.
  • If your doctor will be wearing a face mask for a procedure, ask to be told what you need to know ahead of time, because you can't read lips through a face mask.
  • If your speech is difficult for others to understand, ask the doctor to be patient. Take your time. Feel free to write or to type on a computer or other keyboard if you prefer.
  • If you need a Cued Speech interpreter or an oral interpreter, request one when you make your appointment.

Understanding what your doctor tells you

  • You have a right to understand everything your doctor tells you about your health. You may want to ask the doctor to allow you to repeat sentences back. This way you can check to see if you heard correctly.
  • If your doctor uses a word that you don't know, ask for the word to be written down and explained clearly. If you need it, ask for a drawing or a model.
  • Don't be afraid that you're bothering the doctor with these questions. If it would help you, ask for written information about your condition, your medicines or your treatment choices.

Assistive devices

If you wear hearing aids, take the time to adjust them for the best possible sound. If you use a personal amplification system, don't hesitate to ask your doctor to wear the microphone.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 01/99

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