Clear communication is key in emergency situations, but it can also be a major barrier for those who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind or Hard of Hearing. Now, paramedics can connect these patients virtually with live American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters using a video remote interpreting app on their BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS)-issued iPhones.
“This app makes it easy for paramedics to access ASL interpreters so they can communicate in real time with patients,” said Leon Baranowski, paramedic practice leader, BCEHS.
The Provincial Language Service (PLS) regularly engages with the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community to get their input on the accessibility and usefulness of medical interpreting services in B.C. During these engagement sessions, community members raised that they sometimes had difficulty communicating with paramedics in emergency situations.
These challenges became even more significant during the pandemic due to unintended consequences of COVID-19 safety protocols.
“Paramedics began wearing respiratory masks as part of their routine Personal Protective Equipment and it impacted the patients’ ability to read their lips and facial expressions,” said Baranowski.
The use of pen and paper for communication was also prohibited in ambulances, and having an additional person who could support communication during the ambulance ride was no longer allowed.
A project team comprising members from BCEHS, PLS and Office of Virtual Health was set up in May to develop a solution for these challenges. BCEHS also worked closely with IMITS to install the app on ambulance iPhones throughout the province so paramedics can access certified ASL interpreters on-demand.
"Our team is proud to have partnered BCEHS and OVH to implement a new standard of accessibility in our health care system by ensuring our Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients are getting equal access to emergency care," said Scott Jeffery, sign language service coordinator, PLS. “In the event of an emergency, having the ability to communicate clearly and rapidly with our paramedics can make the difference between life and death. The VRI app will help remove language barriers during these crucial moments for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients and bystanders.”
While there have been different types of interpreters used in the past, such as in-person or over-the-phone, this project marks the first time such video remote interpreting has been used across B.C. and Canada.
“We were honoured to join forces with BCEHS and PLS on this project,” said Julie Wei, senior manager, virtual health initiatives with the OVH. “We found an appropriate and new way for paramedics to safely communicate with patients in the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community across B.C., particularly during the pandemic.”
This project adds to the existing options for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients to improve communication between health care providers and patients as well as to enhance patient safety and reduce time spent in health care services because of impeded communication.
A demonstration of the video remote interpreter app is available in this 30-second video
Information about this announcement is available in ASL in the video below and at this YouTube link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFUgkEfD8sQ&feature=youtu.be
To learn more about medical interpreting services in B.C. go here: www.phsa.ca/health-professionals/professional-resources/interpreting-services