dr. cliff olson aud applied hearing solutions

An interview with YouTube's most popular audiologist, Dr. Cliff Olson

By Clint McLean

Dr. Cliff is a straight-talking audiologist and advocate for people with hearing loss with an enormous YouTube following. Known for lively presentations that sometimes court controversy, Dr. Cliff advises his viewers on all things hearing health related. In a recent video, he extolled the benefits of person-centered care and highlighted the Inspired by Ida program. We asked the YouTube influencer about the wild success of his channel and his enthusiasm for person-centered care. 

Why do you think YouTube channels like yours are important?

I created this channel to provide unbiased, professional advice to individuals, no matter where they are. And while it is very important for hearing care providers to be on their patients’ sides, I think it's just as important for patients to understand what's actually happening and not go into hearing treatment blind. They need a foundational understanding of what their hearing loss is and what their options are to treat it. They have to take a certain amount of responsibility for which treatment is going to be best for them and what that's going to look like. If I can simplify things so people have a better understanding of what they're embarking upon, from a treatment perspective, then I think that’s valuable. 

Why do you think your channel has been such an enormous success?

I'm a little surprised with how well the channel has done. But the thing is, I try not make the information dry and unpalatable. I inject context into it. I create scenarios so people understand why what I'm talking about is important. I try to incorporate some fun thumbnails to illustrate the topic that I'm going to be discussing. And I get it. I mean, if I don't make these videos entertaining to some degree, people are not going to watch them. I don't watch informational stuff if I don't find it entertaining to at least some degree. 

Some of your videos really pull back the curtain on your profession. You’ve shared with viewers things like the cost and details of new office space and about the bank loan for purchasing and renovating it. How does that feed into the philosophy of your channel?

I just think it's transparency. The blogs help individuals who watch my channel understand what it's like to provide care in this world of hearing treatment. There are challenges that come along with it — logistical issues, cost and affordability issues… Part of what I'm combatting is the lack of transparency out there. So, anything I can do to help someone understand that I'm trying to be as open about my industry as possible helps them understand where I'm coming from. Maybe me doing a walk-through of my clinic doesn't provide any audiologic value, but it helps viewers understand that these are real world things that I'm going through, and that provides more trust and understanding when I am talking about other things on my channel. It's a relationship and I want people to know that I'm here for them. 

You recently did a video about person-centered care. Why did you feel like that was an important topic for viewers?

I talk a lot on my channel about technology and different procedures that people could have done on their hearing devices to make sure that they're maximizing their benefit. But I don't think I've ever spoken directly to this aspect of putting the patient at the center of the care model. In my clinic, that is the most important thing. There may be a certain treatment option that I feel is better for my client, but if it's not what's important to them, then it's not the right option.

When I was going through the training to get my Inspired by Ida badge for person-centered care, it just seemed natural. So, I felt it was important to help individuals out there — and not just individuals with hearing loss but also the people who care for individuals with hearing loss. It’s important for them to understand that there is a better way of providing hearing care. If you really, truly just sit down and listen to what your patient wants, it's going to lead to better treatment outcomes and higher treatment acceptance rates, which, at the end of the day, is what really matters. If we're not adopting a person-centered care approach, we're leaving people behind.

You speak a lot about best practices in your videos. How does person-centered care fit into them?

I think they're closely intertwined. I follow the best practice guidelines from AAA that came out back in 2006. And when you read through the best-practice guidelines, you see how person-centered care fits in. To get rid of person-centered care basically means that you're not following best practices anymore. On the other hand, I don't think you could deliver person-centered care without following best practices. 

Now, I had someone comment that the PCC video I made goes against everything that I talk about with real ear measurements and all that. No, it doesn't. Putting the patient's needs in front of my own does not mean that I don't perform the correct diagnostic measures inside of a hearing evaluation or a hearing aid fitting. They are required to happen regardless. But are you going to do it in a way that you help the patient to understand the importance of these things, or are you going to do it in a way where you are just checking off a box saying, “Ok, I performed that measure,” and that's it? 

[Watch Dr. Cliff’s video response to the comment.]

PCC is a difficult message to get to people with hearing loss because they aren’t googling “person-centered care,” or studying healthcare delivery models. Do you think it is more important to turn hearing care professionals into PCC champions or is more energy needed to make people with hearing loss aware of PCC? 

This kind of goes back to the choice I had when I started my channel. Was I going to make a channel that influences providers to do the right thing or one that would inspire consumers to demand that their providers do the right thing? And I decided that if I'm really going to change the landscape of how hearing care is offered, how hearing aids are fitted, and how patients are taken care of, I have to make the patient demand it. Because if they don't demand it, the provider is not going to do it in a lot of cases. So, anytime I make a video, I ask myself: What does a consumer need to know, why do they need to know it, and why do they need to demand it from their hearing care provider? And while it’s important not to alienate the providers in these videos, they're not who I'm talking to. I'm talking to the individual with hearing loss who wants to make sure that they're getting their hearing loss treated in the appropriate way. 

When you did your research for the PCC video, were there any lightbulb moments?

Yeah, the funny thing is, when you go through the actual steps of providing person-centered care, you realize the things that are getting through to your patients — like when I'm employing empathy, or when I'm asking open-ended questions to make sure that they're contributing so that when we're deciding on a care plan, they're involved in that process. 

I learn something new with every video that I do. No matter how smart I thought I might have been on a certain topic before I start making a video for it, there is always something that I wasn't aware of.

Not to put you on the spot, but do you have a favorite Ida tool you would recommend to hearing care professionals?

The Motivation Tools are really helpful to understand where an individual is in their process of adopting hearing care. That means we can change the way we counsel that patient. I think the tools are something that every provider should incorporate. 

We have to understand not only what's important to our patients, but where they are in their journey. And if we can understand that and start speaking directly to where they are, it's going to be better for that patient in the long run — and even in the short run — because you're speaking to them contextually correctly. So, I would say, I think that every provider should use Ida’s Motivation tools when they're working with patients. And your training makes it easy to understand them too. They're not complex things. These are very simple tools that you can get a lot of value out of for very little time invested.

I like to end interviews by asking if there is a question you’ve always wished someone would ask you.

I'm really surprised that nobody asks me if I'm wearing pants in my videos since you only see me from the waist up.