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Published on April 07, 2017

‘What did you say, doctor?’

Does your hearing impairment create an unnecessary challenge when you come to the hospital?

A new device amplifies sound while reducing background noise and is in use at Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital, according to Cecilia Phelan-Stiles, MA, CMI, senior manager of HR Communications at Cape Cod Healthcare.

The Pocket Talker makes it possible for partially deaf patients or visitors to clearly hear what the staff and physicians are saying to them. It’s about the size of a deck of cards and can fit into a pocket or be attached to a hospital gown.

The unit, also known as a personal sound amplifying product (P.S.A.P.), has a small microphone and a pair of headphones.

“These are great units,” said Phelan-Stiles, who was instrumental in purchasing the tool, getting the support of hospital administration and distributing them.

They are available in the emergency room, inpatient units and ambulatory care/surgical suites at both hospitals.

Through her work with the deaf community and at the suggestion of a friend who is a trainer with the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hearing, Phelan-Stiles felt it would be a great help for hearing-impaired patients.

While the devices have just become available in the hospitals, Phelan-Stiles spoke about the difference it made recently when communicating with a woman in her 90s. She had given an in-service presentation to the physical therapists about interpreter services and showed them a Pocket Talker. The next day, one of the physical therapists called her and said she needed one for a patient she was working with on one of the floors. The patient had left her hearing aids at home and said that she didn’t like them because they gave her a ringing sensation in her years. Her nurses had to yell so she could hear them. Phelan-Stiles brought in a pocket talker, clipped the unit to the patient’s gown and turned it on.

The woman looked up at the nurse and said, “I can hear!”

“That moment almost made us cry,” said Phelan-Stiles. “It is such a simple tool.”

When she stopped by Falmouth Hospital to pass out the devices to the inpatient units, one of the nurses literally grabbed it from her hands and said she needed it for one of her patients who was hearing-impaired. The nurse was so grateful to be able to speak in a normal tone and the patient was relieved to be heard.

For Vision-Impaired

Another simple tool that is helping patients with impaired vision is a magnifier.

“When patients would come in and need something to amplify reading, we didn’t have anything,” said Phelan-Stiles. She did some research and found a company that makes disposable magnifiers and they were willing to add the Cape Cod Healthcare logo.

While staff can make copies of some information using a larger print for visually-impaired patients, there are some documents that cannot be reproduced in that format. That is where the magnifier can be of help.

“Sometimes a small investment can help so much,” said Phelan-Stiles.

Patients can take the magnifiers home with them but the pocket-talkers remain at the hospital.

These two devices are just the tip of the iceberg of assistive devices that are available to hearing-impaired, deaf, visually-impaired and blind patients at Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital, she said.

For deaf or hearing impaired:

Changes in nursing care plans also assist in the care of patients with these challenges.

“When I started at Cape Cod Healthcare, there were two sections to address these disabilities,” said Phelan-Stiles. “There was a section to check off deaf/hard-of-hearing and then legally blind, that was it.

“The nurses needed more help and advice, mainly with our visually-impaired patients. I got a team together to look at all aspects of disabilities including mobility, visual, auditory and others.”

The result was new care plans that prompt questions about the details of a patient’s disability such as are they hard-of-hearing and if so, is it in both ears, right ear or left ear. It includes a section to list the aids they need to communicate.

If they are blind, there are check-offs that indicate if they are deaf and blind, legally blind, partially blind and their level of impairment. Nurses can post signage in their room to indicate they are blind or have limited vision and include other information that is necessary on the care plan.

Staff and Phelan-Stiles are always looking for ways to improve care for patients with disabilities.

“It’s important to do anything we can to help our patients communicate and, in turn, we provide better care,” said Phelan-Styles.