‘Change is coming’: A patient reflects on the future of hearing care

By Shari Eberts

What is the future of hearing care? It is a challenging question, but also a timely one. As the world begins to emerge from its Covid-19 isolation, health — both physical and mental— will take on new importance. Hearing care must be included in the broader discussion and the Ida Institute’s Future Hearing Journeys report provides the tools to do just that.

Person-centered care is key to the future of hearing healthcare

Based on extensive research, the report explores the future of hearing healthcare from every angle — that of the consumer, the purveyors of care (hearing care professionals or HCPs), educators, and the broader hearing care industry. While viewpoints differed among the groups, one conclusion was clear — person-centered care (PCC) will take center stage.

Through this report, we see an industry in transition. Competitive threats such as new over-the-counter (OTC) devices in the US are rising, while emerging delivery methods like telehealth are pushing industry care practices to evolve. Consumer preferences and demands are also changing, as individuals seek more control over their healthcare. The one constant is the desire for trust and partnership — the hallmarks of PCC.

The report summarizes it well:

“Hearing care will no longer be a one-way street with clients on the receiving end… The focus will shift from providing devices to supporting clients on their journey towards better hearing and helping them self-manage their hearing loss. This will require professionals to enhance their person-centered skills."

Change is coming for all stakeholders

People with hearing loss are taking greater charge of our overall health and this is translating into how we think about our hearing care too, a trend closely addressed in the Future Hearing Journeys report. We want individualized care, but also flexibility.

We are faced with an array of technology options, but need help choosing among them. Telehealth is growing in popularity, but many of us still seek in-person care, at least part of the time. We are more comfortable doing research and managing our own health decisions, but we also crave the guidance of a knowledgeable partner – one who takes the time to educate us and to co-create our solutions. These dichotomies demand PCC.

Consumers’ evolving desires will mean change for those on the other side of the transactions too. As the report recommends, HCPs will need to further embrace PCC and telehealth, and those that do will differentiate their services and reaffirm their importance in the hearing care delivery process. But audiologists cannot make these adjustments on their own.

How HCPs are educated will need to innovate, with an increased focus on the counseling services and tech-savviness that delivering PCC requires. Audiology students must demand these changes from their programs so the years they invest in their education will prepare them for the future of hearing care.

Manufacturers must also provide support for HCPs – and it’s good to see that industry representatives surveyed in the Future Hearing Journeys project are embracing this role. Faced with increased competition, especially for consumers with mild and moderate hearing losses, hearing aid companies must help HCPs to differentiate their services or risk losing share to consumer electronic companies with more consumer-friendly offerings and delivery methods.

Empathy, flexibility, and partnership — all tenets of PCC — will be the successful formula. All constituents must work together to meet the unique challenges of the future. And all will benefit from their implementation.

Challenges to PCC implementation remain

Consumers demand it and many HCPs want to deliver it, but PCC faces several headwinds in its widespread implementation, a fact also acknowledged in the report.

  • Aural rehabilitation and other counseling services are not always covered by insurance. Will consumers value these services enough to pay for them out-of-pocket? Will insurance schemes change in the face of market forces?
  • Technology is constantly evolving. How will HCPs stay up to date on the latest innovations in hearing technology, especially those from non-traditional players?
  • PCC requires changes to normal business practices and pricing models. Will HCPs resist unbundling fees and other required steps?
  • A hybrid model of in-person and telehealth appointments will best serve the consumer. Will HCPs and manufacturers make the investments needed to fully utilize this growing platform

As I mentioned in my earlier article on this subject:

"The key to success will be the much-needed realization that hearing is an integral part of health and happiness. This shift in mindset would create space for the changes in regulations, financial models, and in-clinic behaviors needed for PCC to be embraced and practiced by all."

Ida’s Future Hearing Journeys Report is the first step in this process. By exploring the viewpoints of all relevant players, and sharing our hopes and fears, we can develop true partnerships that benefit us all.

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of AmericaShari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Her e-book, “Person-centered Care from the Patient’s Perspective”, details her experience living with hearing loss. She hopes the book will provide audiologists with valuable insights they can use to make their practices more person-centered. Connect with Shari: BlogFacebookLinkedInTwitter