Office and Physical Workspace
What do you think of when you think of your workplace? Do you think of the office space where you conduct appointments? Do you think of the waiting room where clients sit before the session? Do you think of your colleagues?
There are many different elements to a workplace that determine how a client will perceive your practice. For example, what impression would someone get from seeing your waiting room for the first time? Is it cold and clinical in the name professionalism, or is it comfortable enough to set people with hearing loss and communication partners at ease while they wait? Is it an example you can use for your clients of an environment where it’s easy to hear?
Take the "waiting" out of waiting room
Begin by taking the “waiting” out of the waiting room, and instead use the space as a starting point for engagement. This is an opportunity for the person with hearing loss and their family to become informed about their hearing and the options available to them, and reflect on the issues more relevant to them. Peter Sydserff of Hidden Hearing shared examples from their offices, where clients can watch a short video on large screens with headphones about hearing loss while they wait to see a clinician. This turns their time before the appointment into an educational and preparation period.
Make it a friendly environment
There are different elements to work with according to where your clinic is located. Making your rooms person-centered could be as simple as arranging the chairs in a way that is easy for clients with limited mobility to navigate. It could also be as broad as the space outside your office: The Hospital for the Rehabilitation of Craniofacial Anomalies from the University of São Paulo (HRAC-USP) – known as Centrinho-USP – in Sao Paulo, Brazil, primarily focuses on surgeries for children with cleft palates. They have opened up their waiting room to use the natural settings as a soothing place for their patients to play. They also provide a comfortable space for parents to settle in with different tasks to help occupy their minds while their children are in surgery.
If you see pediatric clients, the design decisions surrounding your waiting room are a little more obvious. Bright colors, soft furnishings, and toys to play with will all be welcomed by children. There is, however, a gap for teenage-appropriate spaces. Danish patient organization Decibel, which caters to children and adolescents with cochlear implants, balances the clean, white walls with bright furniture that will appeal to their young clientele. Decibel was designed by parents for their children and teenagers, with their needs in mind.
Photo from the patient organization Decibel.
They also make good use of the space outside of their office, turning a bench on the sidewalk into a call to action:
Get inspired by the outrageous
Taking inspiration from the extreme is a good way to find a happy medium you can use now. Even the fantastical can be put into place. To take an example from outside of audiology, GE Medical reframed a child’s hospital visit as an adventure to help ease anxiety. The adventure begins before the child’s appointment, so that the moment when they lie down for a scan is part of the story instead of a scary period when they have to be very still:
It isn’t necessary to go to extremes to find spaces where you could set up for an afternoon to conduct hearing screenings. Going to schools to speak to children – especially teenagers who have their headphones on all the time – setting up in the quiet of a public library, or visiting community or senior centers is a great way to boost the profile of your practice and reach those who might be otherwise hesitant to see visit an audiologist.
The multi-disciplinary team
A work place isn’t just about location, but also the team you work with. While audiology may be your primary focus, there are other fields that relate to hearing health care that can help build out the profile of your practice.
Boston Children’s Hospital has assembled a multi-disciplinary team for their Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, which includes audiologists, otolaryngologists, speech-language pathologists, and psychologists. Together, the team can conduct audiological evaluations and ontological examinations, speech and auditory skills assessments, and look into appropriate hearing technology and educational approaches. They can also provide short term speech-language therapy, individual counseling, and guidance for parents.
While it might not be possible to have every specialist you refer to in-house, your clients may find it convenient – if not comforting – to continue at the same offices for treatment of the same condition. Consider who your network is and make that evident to your clients. This will be especially reassuring for them if they have a condition such as tinnitus, which could require them to see a number of different specialists for treatment.