Strong Connections Receives Honor from State Health Agency

Videoconference interpreting for deaf patients recognized for creativity, effectiveness

September 10, 2002

A University of Rochester Medical Center service that provides sign-language interpreters for deaf patients in health care settings through videoconferencing will be honored this week with the Health Care Advocacy Award by the Healthcare Trustees of New York State.

Strong Connections, which provides hospitals and medical offices throughout North America with medically experienced, certified interpreters for communication with deaf patients, will be recognized Sept. 13 at the trustees’ annual meeting in Lake George.

The award is given to programs or institutions whose activities are designed to improve the health care system in New York state, recognizing creativity, practicality and effectiveness. “

Healthcare Trustees of New York State is thrilled to have the chance to highlight the Strong Connections Program, which stood out from the other nominated programs because of the unique way it aims to meet the specific health care needs of deaf patients,” says Joanne Cunningham, HTNYS executive director.

The service uses leading-edge videoconferencing technology to connect a patient and a nonsigning health care provider with an interpreter located at the University of Rochester Medical Center. It allows the interpreter to be “brought into the room” through the use of the equipment and high-bandwidth (3 ISDN line connections), which is necessary to assure proper image quality for sign-language comprehension.

“Through our two-way audio and visual connection, the interpreter observes the patient’s sign language and translates into spoken English for the health care provider, avoiding incomplete or erroneous information,” says Robert Pollard, director of the Deaf Wellness Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Likewise, the provider speaks to the patient, who watches the signed translation on the monitor. The health care experience of our interpreters is a key element of Strong Connections’ approach.”

A one-year trial conducted with the Olean General Hospital Emergency Department and the University Primary Care (UPC) family practice, in Olean, N.Y., as well as the Erie County Medical Center Emergency Department in Buffalo, showed high levels of satisfaction among deaf patients and medical staff who used the service.

During the past year, a deaf Olean resident, Raquel Kaperski, frequented the UPC practice with her young son for well-child and medical visits. The ease with which she communicated with her health care provider – with the assistance of an interpreter – made a significant difference. She found the service so beneficial, she asked staff at Olean General Hospital to work with the Strong Connections team to assist her during the birth of her second son on March 30. The experience, from prenatal care to the birth and follow-up visits, was easier with interpreter involvement, she says.

“We were thrilled to be able to help Raquel during the birth,” says Kathy Miraglia, manager of Interpreters Services at Strong Memorial Hospital and director of operations for Strong Connections. “It shows that Strong Connections can assist not only with emergency issues and physician’s visits, but in every aspect of health care a patient experiences.”

Strong Connections has attracted more than $300,000 in funding from a variety of groups interested in health care and the deaf population. NEC Foundation of America, which supports programs with national impact that apply technology to assist people with disabilities, has contributed $50,000 to support the program’s expansion. The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund Inc. has provided a $200,000 grant. The Rochester Institute of Technology Executive MBA Program selected Strong Connections for its Capstone program, which provides expert consultation to businesses valued at $60,000.

For Media Inquiries:
Karin Christensen
(585) 275-1311
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