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Proactive Communication in Healthcare is Needed

Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. One issue that a healthcare standard should address is access to information. Healthcare providers should be required to make all information available to all patients. For instance, all healthcare information should be available using communication supports for patients who need them. Communication supports in healthcare settings would help create quality medical care for all Ontarians.

Communication Supports in Healthcare

Under the Information and Communications Standards, healthcare providers must, upon request,  make the information that they provide to patients available using communication supports. Likewise, under the Customer Service Standards, healthcare providers must serve customers in ways that take their communication needs into account. These two provisions seem to ensure that a patient’s service experience should be fully accessible already. However, there is an important service gap which a healthcare standard should fill. Although accessible communication is the law, shortage of professional interpreters means that many healthcare workers cannot communicate with patients.

For instance, when patients who use Sign language come for doctor’s appointments, they should be able to arrange professional Sign language interpretation for the appointments. However, there are not enough professional interpreters, so some patients need to find a different way to communicate with their doctors. Patients might ask a family member or friend who knows some Sign language to interpret. However, non-professionals usually cannot interpret complex medical terms for diagnoses or treatment options. Therefore, a signing patient and non-signing doctor might misunderstand each other. In healthcare situations, misunderstandings could have dangerous consequences for patients’ health. In addition, the need to involve a relative or friend in medical appointments violates patients’ right to keep personal information confidential.

Accessible Appointments

A healthcare standard could implement many solutions for the communication gap between patients and healthcare workers. A standard could mandate the number of interpreters that should be available for patients at a given time. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more education and training programs for interpreters. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for interpreters, so that more people would follow this career path. Moreover, a standard could mandate that a certain number of healthcare professionals should learn to sign. This solution would allow healthcare workers to communicate directly with their patients. Strong mandates within the AODA’s new standard to provide communication supports in healthcare would help create quality medical care for all Ontarians.