A NEW computer tool is set to help Huddersfield doctors overcome communication problems with patients.
Surgeries in Huddersfield are to get the SignHealth programme.
It will help doctors to communicate with patients who have hearing problems or who have limited English.
Steve Powell is chief executive of national charity Sign, which developed SignHealth.
He said: "SignHealth has been developed to ensure healthcare professionals can communicate effectively with patients to make sure an accurate diagnosis is made.
"I believe it will provide a service that doctors and patients in Huddersfield will benefit from for a lifetime."
SignHealth allows health workers to choose what they want to ask a patient from a list of questions on a computer screen.
For deaf patients, a video clip of someone asking the question in British Sign Language is then shown.
The patient can answer by selecting from a list of on-screen answers.
If a patient does not speak English the doctor's question is translated into the correct language. It appears on screen and is also played over a loudspeaker.
The patient can answer using on-screen options.
There are 12 languages available.
SignHealth also prints out information sheets for patients, to explain their medical condition and advise them on how to take medication.
It also allows receptionists to send appointment reminders or information to patients via text messages, to overcome the difficulties of speaking by phone.
This is expected to cut the cost of missed appointments by people with hearing problems by £20m a year.
SignHealth is the first programme of its kind to be available to GP surgeries.
The 33 GP surgeries looked after by Huddersfield Central Primary Care Trust will be offered a free trial of SignHealth by the Government.
The trust is among 303 primary care trusts in England which will get a free trial.
The programme is a response to recent Government research which showed that people with poor English or hearing problems faced difficulty in getting access to NHS services.
About two-thirds of surgeries have no support system in place to help patients with these problems.
* For more information about the SignHealth system visit www.signhealth.com