ISU Study: Deaf Idahoans are twice as likely to be denied healthcare appointments

Posted at 2:21 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 09:04:56-05

Imagine calling your doctor to make an appointment, only to be told they aren't able to give you one. According to a new study from researchers at Idaho State University, that's twice as likely to happen to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Idahoans.

Those in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community say it's a problem they've known about for decades--and now they have the data to prove it.

"We've heard some horrific stories about what people have experienced in this realm," explained Dr. Elizabeth Schniedewind, the professor spearheading the research at Idaho State University. "Anecdotally we have that data, but there has not been a measurement of how often people are denied these appointments, or when that happens, or at which place its more common for them to be denied that appointment."

Schniedewind and her team of researchers looked at appointment data from several primary care physicians across Idaho.

"Within that, we had a group of patients, simulated patients who could hear, and a group of simulated patients who were deaf. We had them call the same list of doctors and dentists," Schniedewind explained.

When they compared the data, what they found was shocking: "Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks being two times more likely to be denied an appointment," said Dr. Ryan Lindsay, another ISU professor conducting the research.

Researchers found much of that denial comes from not having an interpreter available. According to federal law, healthcare providers must provide an interpreter and make accommodations for Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients.

"Medical care is a right for all individuals including deaf individuals," said Steven Snow, executive director of the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "They have a right to have access to their own healthcare and their own information. It's their lives."

Snow believes the issue is also a lack of awareness.

"It's ignorance," Snow said. "Typically when we encounter this in my work, we'll reach out to the facility and explain they need to provide an interpreter and explain how, and they often respond that they weren't aware that was how they needed to do that."

Even with the new research, there's still a lot of questions to be answered.

"There is so much more under the surface and there are many layers to this issue," Snow said.

"There's still breakdowns and a lot of education and training across the clinic staff, from providers to the medical assistant or whoever is making that appointment. They all need to have that understanding," Lindsay explained.

Snow says this issue has become especially prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Idaho News 6 has reported, COVID-19 has been especially difficult for those in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

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If you'd like to read the full study, click here.