There are 12 million people in the UK with hearing loss, including an estimated 900,000 with severe or profound hearing loss.
We know that older people are at higher risk of becoming severely ill due to coronavirus. With more than 70% of people over the age of 70 living with hearing loss, it's vital that healthcare professionals are aware of the communication needs of this population.
Coronavirus presents unique challenges for communicating with people who are deaf or have hearing loss:
- People are increasingly being encouraged, and choosing, to have health appointments over the telephone. For many people with hearing loss, telephone conversations will be difficult or impossible.
- The Accessible Information Standard (AIS) puts a legal requirement on all health and social care providers to identify, record and meet the specific communication needs of people who are deaf or have hearing loss. Many communication needs will have, until now, been met by face to face contact. It may become difficult to meet the needs of people who require face to face communication, without putting public health at risk.
- Many people hearing loss rely on visual cues such as lipreading and facial expressions to understand what's being said. Communication becomes more difficult during telephone appointments or when you are wearing a mask.
Support communication needs at all times
- Ask for and meet the communication needs of people who are deaf or have hearing loss where possible.
- Use screens, as opposed to the telephone, to communicate where possible.
- For British Sign Language users, utilise Video Relay Services where possible.
These tips are particularly important if you are wearing a mask and the patient cannot use visual cues.
- Speak clearly – avoid shouting or speaking unnecessarily slowly.
- Say things differently if the patient asks you to repeat something or does not understand what you have said.
- Check the patient understands what you have said by asking them to repeat information back.
- Use plain language and be straight to the point.
- Reduce background noise as much as possible.
- If requested, speak to a relative or friend.
When lipreading is possible
- Make sure there is adequate lighting.
- Face the patient so they can clearly see your mouth.
- Gain the patient's attention before speaking.
- Use normal lip movements, facial expression, and gestures.