How do you serve the Deaf community as a pharmacist?

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Written by Elizabeth Chong – PRP, Sime Darby Medical Centre and Assistant Marketing & Communications of MPS-YPC

The word – communication plays such a major role in the profession of a pharmacist. As I reflect on my student days, I was more concerned about learning drug pharmacology and disease states that I had neglected the importance of good communication skills. Let’s face it, the only time you really think about communications skill is probably when OSCEs are around the corner (and even then, you and your buddies have a whole script on how you would greet the patient or doctor up to till when you close your conversation) I admit it, guilty as charged.

As a young budding pharmacist, yes, the basics of greetings and ending the conversation are inevitable. However, it’s not as clear cut as your OSCE script. It has dawned on me that the entire basis of the pharmacy profession is good communication skills (because excellent pharmaceutical care cannot be fulfilled when you are unable to convey the message well). Now, this is something that will definitely improve as you deal with doctors, nurses, patients and caregivers. Often, it takes a few unfavourable situations to learn how to improve your interpersonal skills. From what we’ve gathered here, communication between hearing counterparts can be challenging. Now, what about communicating with a Deaf person?

Misconceptions about communicating with Deaf people.

1) I use written information when I communicate with a Deaf patient.
Deaf people generally depend on a visual language which is not available in written form. Therefore, they may not have a good grasp of written language, which makes deciphering and comprehending health information in the form of leaflets, posters, or articles, difficult

2) Deaf patients can lipread
There is also a misconception that sign language is a visual representation of the spoken language. Barriers such as surgical masks or small lips impede lip-reading.

There are 55,000 Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in Malaysia. As of 2013, there are only 30 sign language interpreters (SLI) working with the Malaysia Federation of the Deaf and approximately 20–30 freelance interpreters across the country. Thus for every one interpreter, there are approximately 1,000 Deaf individuals to attend to. In Malaysia, health care professionals are not obligated to provide SLI. Deaf patients often face uncertainty during their medical visits as miscommunications can result in undesirable consequences such as a misdiagnosis.

One of the most accessible health care professionals is a pharmacist. Due to our close proximity and high frequency of contact with the general public, this places us at the point of entry to the health care system. Hence, we can assume a greater responsibility in the healthcare of Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients. An initiative was taken to design and develop an mHealth app to facilitate communication between pharmacists and Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who use sign language as their primary language. To inform the design of this app, we undertook a qualitative study with the objective of obtaining the views of community pharmacists about the design and features of the app. In this paper, we discuss suggestions for app design and content, its perceived benefits and the potential challenges related to the app. Interested in knowing how technology can bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and individuals who are Deaf? Read: https://www.dovepress.com/a-qualitative-study-on-the-design-and-development-of-an-mhealth-app-to-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-PPA

I’d love to hear your experiences as you communicate with Deaf people in your own setting. What other methods have you used? How were your experiences? As for the Deaf community, what do you think of the pharmacists’ current practice of communication?
Hit me up at eycchong@mpsypc.com.my

The opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the view of MPS YPC.

Elizabeth Chong is a provisionally registered pharmacist (PRP) at Ramsay Sime Darby Medical Centre. She also holds a position as the Assistant Marketing & Communications Director of YPC. Since her university days, she has participated in a number of research projects involving the Deaf community. Her research interests include healthcare access among minority/vulnerable groups, migration health and mHealth.

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