Non-verbal communication is important when caring for deaf patients, fostering excellence in health care.
Aim: an analysis of the legal and sociocultural aspects of the relation between deaf patients and physicians.
Methods: Computerized databases for the period between 1996 and 2006 were used for collecting data; the keywords 'patient', 'deaf person', 'communication' and 'health' were used. A non-systematic search was made in scientific publications.
Results: These studies were grouped into two categories: communication between deaf patients and physicians, who has to deal with communication barriers when caring for deaf patients, and the importance of non-verbal communication in healthcare. Deaf persons, their language, and their relation with physicians show the importance of sign language, endorsed by the Federal Law 10.436/02.
Conclusions: When deaf patients and physicians meet, they need to overcome communication barriers that may hinder the necessary bond in healthcare and the care that is provided; this may also affect the diagnosis and treatment. It is clear that public institutions should create programs for training healthcare professionals in the appropriate care of deaf patients.