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Abstract

In the U.S., deaf individuals who use sign language have a legislated right to communication access in the healthcare system, which is often addressed through the provision of signed language interpreters. However, little is known about deaf patients’ perception of interpreter presence, its impact on their disclosure of medical information to physicians, and whether this perception affects their assessment of physicians’ patient-centered communication behaviors (PCC). A total of 811 deaf adults responded to questions on a bilingual ASL-English online survey about their experiences with interpreters and physicians. Logistic regression analysis was used to assess the relationship between deaf patients’ perception of interpreters’ presence with disclosure of medical information and deaf patients’ ratings of their physicians’ patient-centered communication behaviors. The majority of deaf respondents reported feeling that an interpreter’s presence does not interfere with disclosure of medical information to their provider; however, approximately 27% responded that an interpreter’s presence does interfere with their disclosure of medical information. After controlling for correlates of physicians’ patient-centered communication behaviors, the negative perception of interpreters’ presence was associated with 1) low ratings of interpreters’ ability to understand their signed communication, and 2) low ratings of physicians’ patient-centered communication behaviors. Deaf patients’ perception of interpreters’ interference with disclosure of medical information to physicians has implications for trust relationships between the deaf patient and the interpreter, as well as between the deaf patient and physician. Understanding the importance of establishing trust in interpreter-mediated healthcare encounters may foster additional training of interpreters’ receptive skills and inform physician’s patient-centered care for deaf patients.

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