An Interview with Ida Advisory Board Member Darcy Benson

By Amanda Farah Cox

Darcy Benson, AuD, recently joined the Ida Advisory Board. Darcy is the owner of California Hearing Center & Audiology Services, Inc, and brings a valuable real-world perspective to our work, both from the clinician and client point of view.

Ida spoke to Darcy about how she brings person-centered care into her daily practice.

How do you use person-centered care to ensure that your clients have a positive experience?

In the first encounter with the patient, it is imperative that they come away with the understanding that we have their best interest at heart. It is this trust that helps to build their confidence in us and in taking the next step to reach their goals.

We use some of the Ida Institute’s tools, such as the Patient Journey, to help identify where the patient is with their hearing experiences. If the patient is in the Pre-Contemplation stage, we may focus on information dissemination and give them exercises to identify when and where they may not hear. If the patient is in Action, we will focus on a discussion of hearing devices and realistic expectations from amplification. Recognizing where the patient is on the journey helps to take the focus off the hearing aid and to tailor the encounter to their needs.

We also use Motivational Interviewing so that the patient’s decision-making comes from within and Change Talk to explore the patient’s desires, abilities and needs for change. We make sure they take an active role in the decision-making process and understand ultimately it is their choice.

I believe this patient-centered, non-pressured approach leads to a positive patient experience in the office. 

How do you implement person-centered protocols?

Implementing evidenced-based best practices in a patient-centered care environment has been a goal for my practice for over 20 years. It anchors us to what we do and to why we come to work every day.

Our patient-centered approach is detailed in the protocols we have for every touch point with our patients. The approach is outlined in our patient information packets, the appointment check-in process, professional services, hearing history interview process, hearing evaluation, audiology consultation, hearing device fitting and follow up, verification, ALDS and connectivity devices, counseling, and rehabilitation. These protocols apply whether the patient wishes to improve their hearing, protect their hearing, manage their tinnitus or improve their enjoyment of music. They apply if the patient only seeks information or counseling about hearing and hearing loss.

We use Decision Aids to educate our patients about treatment options, realistic expectations of benefits, and to give them an overview of the costs involved.

Our philosophy of care is communicated with all written materials we use: Brochures, recall letters, newsletters, on our website, our Facebook page and our electronic newsletters. It is a thread that weaves through every interaction with our patients, whether it is with the audiologists, the audiology assistant, the front office, the insurance clerk, the bookkeeper, or with the office clerk.

Our protocols include a self-assessment inventory and an office experience questionnaire that we ask patients to complete. If we are successful, the patient should feel that we have shown a respect for their preferences and needs, that we informed and educated them, counseled and provided emotional support, involved family/friends, provided a continuity of care and coordinated/integrated care with other specialties, as needed.

We have weekly staff meetings where we discuss and fine-tune our protocols. We have scripts for the staff to use when fielding questions from patients on a variety of topics. We continually look for ways to improve the patient’s experience and make sure that all protocols are written down in our Office Procedures Manual.

Are there any particular qualities that you look for when you’re hiring new staff?

When hiring audiology or support staff, I look for people who have good communication skills for both speaking and listening. This is a person who finds it easy to engage the patient in conversation and who is genuinely interested in the lives of others; a true “people person.”

I look for someone who has empathy for what the patient is experiencing and who has compassion for the patient’s situation. I also look for someone who is respectful and who treats patients in a professional manner. This relates to treating the patient with the utmost dignity in all interactions with them.

I also look for those who are not afraid to ask questions that might elicit an emotional response from the patient, someone who is comfortable discussing feelings and in letting the patient open up emotionally.

Tell us about your outreach efforts and how you prepare for them. 

We participate in local health fairs, give community presentations, provide audiology services at retirement communities, hold free hearing screening events at our offices and give “lunch and learn” seminars at local churches and community centers.

We provide informational brochures about hearing loss, audiology, self-help groups, hearing improvement and hearing loss prevention.

We work with the primary care physicians in our area to help them better understand the importance of hearing care as a part of overall health care. We educate them about the association between hearing loss and many of the diseases they treat. We emphasize the value of a baseline hearing evaluation, not only when their patients notice a hearing problem, but as a routine part of care.

To raise public awareness of the importance of hearing checkups as part of routine health care we use the concept of the Three Wise Monkeys. I purchased three sock monkeys from a local toy store. For the hearing screening monkey, I sewed the monkey’s hands behind the ears, for vision screening, sewed them over the eyes and for dental screening, over the mouth. We take the sock monkeys and the Three Wise Monkey’s poster with us to community events. They are a big hit with the attendees.