A new app will help deaf and hearing-impaired patients using the BC Ambulance Service. (Photo credit: Chilliwack Progress)

A new app will help deaf and hearing-impaired patients using the BC Ambulance Service. (Photo credit: Chilliwack Progress)

New app helps deaf and hearing-impaired ambulance patients

App gives real-time access to American Sign Language interpreters

B.C. paramedics can now connect Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing patients with live American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. The service not only provides more assistance for these patients, but also helps address unintended issues created by safety protocols put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the Provincial Language Service, and the Office of Virtual Health have launched a mobile app for a video remote interpreting service for all BCEHS ambulance iPhones. Using the app, paramedics can access certified ASL interpreters on-demand.

The Provincial Language Service 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. During these sessions, community members raised concerns that they sometimes had difficulty communicating with paramedics in emergency situations.

These challenges became even more significant during the pandemic due to unintended consequences created by 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,” says Leon Baranowski, paramedic practice leader, BCEHS.

COVID-19 protocols also mean patients can no longer have a support person ride along with them in an ambulance, and the use of pen and paper for communication is also prohibited.

This project introduces video remote interpreting as a new service for BCEHS. It is in addition to the pre-existing options for Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing patients, and will improve communication between health care providers and Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing patients; reduce the time spent in health care services as a result of communication barriers; and enhance patient safety.

“It’s the first time in Canada for ASL interpreting services to be offered to paramedics like this,” says Benoit Morin, president and CEO of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). “I want to congratulate these important PHSA services for coming together and collaborating on this appropriate and innovative 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.”


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