The Unheard Minority

July 30, 2012 Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP


We’ve all had our issues with healthcare—from trying to read through your bill to understanding the instructions your doctor is telling you to navigating through automated phone trees finding someone who can answer your health questions. There are many frustrations that we as patients deal with. Now imagine you’re missing one of your five senses, such as hearing. All of a sudden, those challenges seem much bigger.

A recent study published in The Lancet medical journal suggests that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have worse healthcare and less access to health services. And it makes sense when you think about it.

  1. Hearing loss is not often a “visible” handicap so healthcare providers may not know their patients have it. Patients may not even know they have hearing loss!
  2. Even if patients do know they have hearing problems, most healthcare providers do not have training on how to effectively communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  3. Lastly, those frustrations we just talked about keep many of us from accessing healthcare the right way. People who cannot hear well may experience even more difficulties which could keep them from going to the doctor or asking the questions they need to have answered.

The effect on healthcare quality and access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be enormous.

But how do you know if you have hearing loss?
You may want to see a doctor if you experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • Do you have to ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Do you have a hard time understanding women and children when they speak to you?
  • Do you have a hard time understanding people when there is a lot of background noise (ie: crowds)?
  • Do people complain that you turn the volume up too high on the TV or radio?

Go through this checklist to see if you experience other symptoms of hearing loss and then get your hearing checked by a doctor. Call 1-800-SWEDISH (1-800-793-3474) to find a doctor.

And if you already know you are deaf or hard of hearing, how do you make sure that it doesn’t affect your health in other ways?

  1. Tell your doctor! If they know you have problems hearing, they will be better able to help you. In fact, they are required to provide communication aids and services for you.

  2. Educate yourself! Know what resources are available to you. From hearing aids to special phone services, there are many tools that can help you. In addition, Swedish offers free classes on hearing loss and hearing aids. Register at for one of our free Health and Wellness Classes on July 12, October 24 and a special session on Cochlear Implants on November 6 to learn about different communication aids and tools.

  3. Use hearing aids or other tools to help you hear better. If you know Sign Language, ask for an interpreter.

Hearing loss can be prevented but if you are already deaf or hard of hearing, there is no reason that it should affect other parts of your health. Don't stay part of the unheard minority. Know your rights, know the tools that are available to you and take action so that you can stay happy and healthy.


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