The rise of telehealth has revolutionized the way services are delivered, adding new convenience and accessibility to patient. However, for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, navigating telehealth can present significant challenges due to communication barriers. In this article, we’ll explore the interesting role of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in improving access to remote healthcare for Deaf individuals.

The Need for Inclusive Telehealth

Telehealth has gained immense popularity over the past few years with platforms now providing patients with the ability to consult healthcare professionals from the comfort of their homes. According to the American Telemedicine Association, usage has surged in recent years, especially during the global pandemic, and is projected to continue expanding in the future.

Telehealth in many ways is not new to the Deaf community but utilizing video from within the hospital presents complex challenges. One of the largest barriers is the ability to participate effectively in remote medical consultations. For the Deaf community, ASL serves as a primary means of communication, making the presence of qualified ASL interpreters essential to ensure effective and meaningful interaction during telehealth appointments. This means having an additional user on the call which can slow down bandwidth, reduce clarity, visibility and become a barrier to the conversation.

A study published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare found that incorporating ASL interpreters into telehealth sessions significantly improved patient satisfaction and understanding of medical information. This emphasizes the importance of interpreters in promoting positive patient outcomes and overall healthcare experience for the Deaf community. Still, it is not without its hurdles.

Addressing Technical Challenges

In the digital realm of telehealth, ASL interpreters face technical challenges in providing seamless services. Collaborative efforts between interpreters, healthcare providers, and telehealth platforms are necessary to ensure smooth video connections, audio quality, and synchronized interpretation. As an industry we are currently working to perfect the technology we work with to allow for a compliant, safe and friendly user experience for all involved. However, even the best of products face hesitancy in the medical community.

Training and awareness on best practices for telehealth interpreting are essential to optimize remote interpreting experiences for all involved parties. With hospital budgets often reduced or limited, the responsibility on training often falls on outside organizations. NGOs like the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) provide guidelines and resources for interpreters working in telehealth settings. Their work is to advocate for better services and better experiences keeping the needs of interpreter’s, patient’s and the provider’s needs in mind.

We’re thrilled to see what the future holds!