Bradford Talking Media

Richard Gurney

2nd March 2018

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A blog post by Richard Gurney.

What is the first thing you do when you feel unwell? If you woke up with a stomach ache and swollen glands, what would you do? 

In this scenario, my first thought would be to ring the GP for an appointment. I’d then walk down to the surgery, have a chat with the receptionist, wait until I’m called into the surgery, explain my symptoms to the doctor, get a prescription, go to the pharmacy, speak to the pharmacist, be told the dosage or how best to take the medication, and then go home. These are seemingly simple steps take you from feeling ill, to being back at home with advice or medication.

Now, imagine you are deaf. How many of these steps are actually simple?

I recently spent some time with a group of deaf people from Bradford Talking Media, who were kind enough to share some of their experiences with me visiting GP surgeries. What struck me was how fluid sign language communication can be for those who have it as a first language, and how challenging it can be if you don’t understand the language. There was a highly skilled interpreter present, who enabled us to discuss complex issues, and the group as a whole were very patient with me.

It also raised the question: if spoken English isn’t your first language, how do you communicate your needs?

One member of the group described a recent experience, when they had woken up feeling ill and realised that they needed to seek medical advice. They were unable to call the surgery for an appointment because they couldn’t hear the receptionist or make themselves understood. They also couldn’t go to the surgery directly, because in the past they had not been able to make their needs clear, and as a result went to a local resource centre to find an interpreter to ring the GP on their behalf. This might seem like a good solution, but for this individual, the first available appointment for both a doctor and an interpreter was three weeks away. This meant the group member had to endure three weeks of pain, and worrying that they were becoming increasingly ill. When the appointment finally arrived, the group member described the challenge of discussing their personal health problems in front of a complete stranger (the interpreter), how the appointment felt rushed because of the extra time needed for interpretation, and then facing the challenge of collecting the medication from the pharmacy. This experience was not an exception, it appeared to be the rule. Other participants described missing appointments, because they couldn’t hear the doctor call them in from the waiting room, struggling to order repeat prescriptions because of the complex medication names,  The group talked about the help they received from receptionists and staff at surgeries and that not all their experiences had been bad but there remained a lack of understanding about the needs of deaf people.

Despite the various challenges group members had faced, there was soon a flow of ideas about how such situations could be improved. Some of the ideas included access to a pictorial library of medications so that a deaf patient could show their doctor what medication they need, an online booking system which showed the availability of a both an interpreter and an appointment together, extra time allowance for appointments, and a smartphone version of the ‘I am deaf’ accomodation card which is carried by some group members.

I had a very enjoyable and informative time with the group, and hopefully some of them will take part in our upcoming app testing sessions. Modern smartphones and tablets have the potential to make access to GP services easier for both patients and professionals. If you have a hearing or visual impairment and would like to let us know about your experiences, or would like to take part in the app testing sessions, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Despite the challenges faced by the group, it wasn’t long before the ideas started flowing about how the situation could be improved. Some of the ideas included having a pictorial library of medications so the deaf person can show the doctor the medication they need, online appointment booking with the ability to show availability of interpreters and appointments together, extra time for appointments to allow time for interpretation and a smartphone version of the “I am deaf” card carried by some of the group members.

I had such an enjoyable and informative time with the group and hopefully some of the guys will take part in our upcoming app testing sessions. Modern phones and tablet computers have the potential to make access to GP services easier for both patients and professionals.  If you have a hearing or visual impairment and would like to let us know about your experiences or would like to take part in the app testing sessions, please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

Richard Gurney

Richard Gurney

Digital Exemplar Lead

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