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Sign of the times for hearing impaired patients

Harris Health System is now using sign language video technology to better communicate with its hearing-impaired and hard-of-hearing patients. Connecting patients with physicians and nurses in a timely and convenient manner is one of the driving forces behind the new portable interpretation service.

New iPad®-equipped wheeled carts (similar to rolling blood-pressure stands) act as in-person translators of American Sign Language for patients and staff at a moment’s notice. The program has four such carts complete with speakers and audio enhancement capability at Harris Health’s Ben Taub, Quentin Mease, and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals.

“One of the greatest advantages of using this new technology in clinical settings is its on-demand availability,” says Graciela Zozaya, manager, Harris Health Interpretation Services. “This means less waiting time for patients and better time management efficiency for providers and staff.”

In the past, Harris Health used a service that provided in-person interpreters at a cost up to $105 an hour. The higher cost was assessed for calls requested urgently, during off-business hours or on weekends. All requests were charged a minimum of two hours.

Sign language interpreter costs can be quite expensive, especially for hospitalized patients needing round-the-clock interpretation. intensive care hospitalization. The cost for interpretation was about $12,000 because an interpreter was needed throughout the patient’s stay.

“In hospitalized patient settings, it provides the patient with peace of mind knowing that there is an interpreter available to them at any moment,” says Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli, chief, Medicine ICU, Ben Taub Hospital, and associate professor, Baylor College of Medicine.

“In outpatient surgery, I can get the portable device and in a minute turn it on to communicate directly with the interpreter who provides face-to-face service between me and my patient,” adds Marcy Balderas, RN, clinical nurse, Surgery Clinic, Harris Health Outpatient Center at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.

The iPad® carts, Language You See (L-UC), operate using the hospital’s Wi-Fi service and charge on a per minute basis with no minimum requirements for interpretations. The service is available 24 hours a day/ seven days a week. While convenience and providing patients with timely medical care are essential, the new devices also are expected to provide Harris Health a significant cost savings (about 37 percent) for sign language interpretations.

“Being able to embrace technology, we are better able to serve our hearing-impaired patients by providing them an important means of communication,” says David Riddle, administrative director, Harris Health Patient Experience. “The process to connect to the service is simple, fast and effective, and our patients get their care in a timely manner to provide them with the best possible health outcomes.”

Harris Health’s Interpretation Services serves about 20,000-30,000 requests for Spanish interpretations a month, plus requests for more than 80 other languages. Sign language requests are relatively few, but a necessary addition to the more than 200 languages available for interpretation. Harris Health. Interpretation Services provides assistance through a dedicated call center, in-person interpreters, two-way telephone connection and now video connections. Spanish and Vietnamese interpretations are the most requested languages.