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Best Practices in Caring for the Deaf Patient

This guide offers medical professionals information to understand Deaf culture and identify resources (databases, books, web sites, and more) to continue research topics in this subject.

Basic ASL for the Medical Professional

Patient care suffers when patients and medical professionals have poor communication. If language barriers between doctors and adult patients are not conquered, misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment are more likely to occur.

To provide effective and clear communication between medical staff and patients, a number of tools are available to assist medical professionals with providing effective communication strategies with their patients.

While learning some basic ASL doesn't qualify you to be an interpreter, it does allow you to engage in conversational communication with a patient and establish a personal connection with them.

ABC's & Number Signs

ABC's - (A through Z)

  • Used for fingerspelling names, words, and phrases

Signs for letters of the alphabet in ASL.

Numbers 1-10

  • Used for counting and assessing the pain scale

Signs for the numbers 1 to 10 in ASL.



Medical Signs

This video demonstrates a few signs that can help you get started with talking to a Deaf/Hard of Hearing patient. The signs in the video include:

  • where
  • hurt
  • hospital
  • allergy
  • feel
  • medicine
  • medical
  • history
  • calm
  • ambulance

These words can be used together to create phrases used to communicate some simple information to Deaf patients and family members.



The primary function of the medical interpreter is to make possible communication between a health care provider and a patient who does not speak the same language.

Many health care facilities have their own interpreter services in place for patient use and may even offer assistive technology for patient use during their care at the facility.

Communication Tips


  • Look and speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person and not to the interpreter
  • The interpreter will probably be a few words behind the speaker
  • The interpreter is not a participant in the conversation or program and should not be brought into discussion or asked questions

In a program or meeting:

  • Be aware there are different types of interpreting and ask users what they need
  • Schedule interpreters well in advance (at least two weeks)
  • Provide interpreter with copies of handouts and with the names of program/meeting participants and spelling of any technical terms or jargon before the program begins
  • Make sure all arrangements (lighting, seating, interpreter preferences, client preferences, etc.) are worked out before the program/meeting begins
  • If the interpreter is working alone give adequate breaks
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