Objective: To assess physicians' knowledge and beliefs regarding communication with deaf people and compare their knowledge and beliefs with their methods of communicating with deaf patients in their practices.
Setting: University medical center.
Subjects: Attending physicians in an internal medicine department.
Interventions: Physicians were surveyed regarding prior contacts with deaf patients and with deaf people outside the medical setting, and regarding their knowledge and beliefs concerning methods of communicating with deaf people. Physicians were asked to estimate the fraction of encounters in which they communicated with deaf patients by lipreading, writing, translation by a relative or friend, a sign language interpreter, or other methods.
Results: Writing was the method used most frequently in communicating with deaf patients. Although 63% of physicians knew that signing should be the initial method of communicating with deaf patients who sign, only 22% used sign language interpreters more frequently than other methods in their practices. Past contact with deaf people (P = .05), belief that communication by signing was the best means of communication (P = .04), and knowledge of the inefficiency of lipreading (P = .04) were predictors of the use of sign language interpreters for deaf patients. Physicians who used sign language interpreters more frequently than other methods believed that much more time and effort were involved in caring for deaf than for hearing patients compared with those who used interpreters less frequently (P = .08).
Conclusion: Although most physicians believed that use of sign language interpreters was preferable, only a minority used them in their practices. Greater recognition of the advantages of signing over other methods and greater availability of sign language interpreters should lead to more effective communication between deaf patients and physicians.