Communication Strategies for Nurses Interacting With Patients Who Are Deaf

Christine Chong-hee Lieu, BA; Georgia Robins Sadler, PhD, MBA, BSN; Judith T. Fullerton, PhD, CNM, FACNM; Paulette Deyo Stohlmann, MSN, RN, OCN


Dermatology Nursing. 2007;19(6):541-544; 549-55. 

In This Article

Written Communication

Written notes be tween health care providers and deaf patients may provide an immediate means to communication, but also may pose another possible barrier to care. For many deaf people, English is a second language and one that may be used infrequently. It has been noted that written English is as limited in its usefulness to primary ASL-users as it is to non-English-speaking immigrants (Barnett, 2002a).

Additionally, members of the Deaf community may experience obstacles in accessing some educational opportunities, which can lead to fettered educational involvement and a lesser degree of acquisition of health literacy (Meador & Zazove, 2005). Cultural and communication variance can make it difficult for members of the Deaf community to obtain knowledge about general health from conventional sources, such as captioned-television or printed health information in a health setting (Margellos-Anast et al., 2005). Thus, deaf patients may have difficulty in understanding medical terminology or complicated written instructions. The vocabulary and quality of handwriting of health care providers contributes to ineffective communication in deaf patient-provider interactions (Steinberg et al., 2006). When an ASL interpreter is not present, and when the patient has indicated that note writing is the preferred mode of communication, the nurse should use simple words and phrases, write legibly, and ensure the deaf patient can read the writing.

A regular check of the clarity of the interaction will help minimize confusion and miscommunication ("Do you understand?"). The nurse also can be prepared with a chart of common ASL pictographs and the finger alphabet, and a list of "yes" and "no" questions which may clarify communication (McAleer, 2006). Visual aids and educational videos and Web sites for the Deaf community can further bridge the gap.


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