Why Hospitals Need Interpreters for Deaf Patients

Why Hospitals Need Interpreters for Deaf Patients A recent lawsuit illustrates why hospitals and doctors who treat deaf patients need to ensure proper communications between health providers and patients. The lawsuit was filed in federal court against Parkwest Hospital and Covenant Health, which are both located in Knoxville, Tennessee. The lawsuit claims that a deaf patient’s leg was partially amputated improperly, and that the amputation could have been avoided if the health providers had employed or arranged for a live interpreter.

According to News Nation Now, the patient visited the hospital several times in 2017. The litigation is ongoing.

Why was a deaf patient’s leg wrongly amputated?

The patient initially sought medical help in October 2017 after he fell. He experienced pain and numbness in his right foot and leg. The patient requested that an American Sign Language Interpreter be provided. After his initial visit (which did not include an interpreter) and an X-ray diagnostic test, per News Nation Now, the patient was given an antibiotic and ibuprofen.

When the pain worsened, the patient went to the Lenoir City Emergency Room in Lenoir City, Tennessee. The doctors at the ER transferred the patient back to Parkwest Hospital after they determined that the patient had developed blood clots. The doctors wanted the patient to be seen by a vascular surgeon with the help of an interpreter.

Instead of arranging for an interpreter, the patient was “provided with a video remote interpreting device, which the lawsuit claims was ineffective due to consistent disconnections and blurry picture as a result of the hospital’s firewall.” The patient had surgery the next day to try to remove the blood clots and to insert a medical device. According to the court filings, the patient’s daughter  served as the interpreter.

The surgery caused the patient to have severe pain. He was not able to discuss his medical condition with the medical staff at the hospital. The patient was sent home under heavy sedation and with a “blue foot.” When skin appears blue, it is usually an indication that the affected body part has low oxygen levels. In this case, it indicates that not enough oxygen-rich blood was making it to the patient’s foot.

The patient then had an appointment with his family doctor on November 1, 2017. The family doctor helped send the patient to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. At the UT Medical Center, the patient was aided by a 24/7 live ASL interpretive service.  On November 2, he underwent a second surgery. The patient was told on November 5 that a partial amputation would be required.

On November 7, 2017, 30% of his right leg was amputated from the knee down.

The basis of the medical malpractice claim arising from the amputation

The University of Tennessee staff told the patient that “they would have been able to save his foot if he had come to their facilities earlier.” The federal medical malpractice lawsuit claims that the lack of competent communication caused the patient to:

  • Fail to understand the reason for his admission.
  • Fail to understand the purpose of the treatments provided, including the common risks.
  • Fail to understand the aftercare and discharge instructions.
  • Fail to understand the alternative treatments.

The lawsuit claims that Parkwest Hospital and Covenant Health, as healthcare facilities providers, violated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called the ACA or PPACA) because these health providers did not accommodate the patient’s disability – his deafness.

Damages in medical malpractice cases, such as an unnecessary amputation, include the following:

  • Medical bills. The medical costs include the cost of any surgeries, doctor visits, and medications. For amputees, the medical bills also include the cost of any prosthetics or any other assistive devices. Medical expenses also include the cost of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and any other help the patient needs to learn to use prosthetic devices.
  • Lost income. Patients who cannot work for any period of time or for the rest of their lives are entitled to be paid for their lost income and benefits.
  • Pain and suffering. Amputees often live with phantom pain, worries about infections, loss of bodily function, and many other pains, hurts, and complications.
  • Scarring and disfigurement. The loss of a leg or part of a leg affects the victim’s confidence and ability to function. Many amputation victims require psychological care.

In addition to seeking damages and legal fees, the lawsuit seeks an injunction to require the two entities to:

  • Provide in-person interpreters when requested by deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
  • Notify patients who are deaf or hard of hearing of their right to effective communication.
  • Create a list of sign language interpreters to ensure their availability at any time.
  • Train all staff employees how to properly use video remote interpreting (VRI) systems and how to obtain technical help.

Both the hospital and Covenant Health have stated that they cannot comment on ongoing litigation.

Why is this a federal medical malpractice claim?

According to Interpreters Unlimited, Section 1557 of the ACA, which became effective on July 18, 2016, requires that “any healthcare provider or health insurance company receiving federal assistance must provide limited English proficiency (LEP) patients with a qualified interpreter.”

To become a qualified interpreter, an individual must meet rigorous education requirement and complete a training program to obtain advanced knowledge and fluency in English and at least one other language. Qualified interpreters adhere to the code of ethics, principles, and confidentiality as practiced in the language services industry. Section 1557 now requires qualified interpreters for on-site and video remote interpretation appointments.

At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our medical malpractice lawyers understand how devastating it is for patients to learn that their injuries that could have been avoided were preventable. We work with skilled medical professionals and administrators who understand what procedures hospitals, medical facilities, and doctors should use  to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients. Our lawyers have the experience and skills to hold health providers responsible when their medical malpractice causes harm. To discuss any medical malpractice claim with a seasoned Memphis injury lawyer, call us at 901-475-7434 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We handle medical malpractice claims on a contingency fee basis, and maintain an additional office in Jackson for your convenience.