Using AAC to communicate with medical staff (summary)

What was the aim of the study? The study aimed to find out about the experiences of people who use AAC in communicating with primary care health professionals (e.g.GPs).

Why was the paper written? There is evidence that people with disabilities are less likely than the population in general to use primary or preventative health care services. The authors wanted to find out about AAC users experiences of non-hospital based healthcare and identify any barriers to effective communication and strategies used to overcome these.

What did the authors do? Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 12 people who use AAC, 4 participants also contributed to an online focus group. Participant's responses were analysed to identify themes.

The AAC users used a range of different communication systems and strategies, and had a mixture of acquired and congenital conditions. All had good enough language and cognitive skills to be able to participate fully with the study.

What did they find?

Although all of the AAC users were generally satisfied with the quality of care they received there were many frustrations expressed. The people who used AAC wanted to take responsibility for decisions about their own health care but this was not always easy. They felt that doctors often assumed that they were not able to understand what was said to them or to make decisions about their care themselves.

Almost all of the participants took a family member or carer with them to appointments to act as an assistant and/or interpreter and to take part in decision making. This was felt to be very important but could cause problems as the doctors often talked to the carer instead of the patient.

AAC users believed it was important that everyone involved in the appointment prepared in advance and it was beneficial if they knew the doctor well and additional time could be given for their appointment. Sometimes doctors seemed rushed and unable to wait for the patient to construct their answers. AAC users thought that it was their responsibility to teach the healthcare worker about their communication system.

Participants felt that it was doctors who were specialists or who had known the AAC user for a long time found it easier to communicate with them than primary care workers.

Cautions: The study involved a small, self-selected group of participants who came from similar areas and had a limited range of types of disorders and they therefore might not represent the views of the majority of people who use AAC.


Improving patient-provider communication needs a team approach with all participants contributing.

There is a lack of knowledge among primary health care staff about how best to communicate with people who use AAC, and a need for on-going training for doctors throughout their career to ensure that they acquire and maintain skills.

Things you may want to look into:

Communication in the ICU (summary)

Added to site January 2014