Embrace Creativity as a Part of Person-Centered Care

By Shari Eberts

I love my hearing aids and wear them all the time. They help me hear better at home and at work, with friends, family and colleagues. But there are certain situations where hearing aids alone are not enough. Additional assistance is needed. Like when I am at the movies and use caption readers to augment the sound or attend the theater and enjoy a hearing loop. Other activities — going to a loud restaurant, talking on the phone or watching TV — are almost always a challenge, even with my hearing aids tuned in and turned up.

In these situations, assistive listening devices can be a big help, but when I ask my audiologists about them, I rarely get much information. They might suggest using a different program on my hearing aids, or adjusting the volume, but rarely provide more creative solutions. Most of the innovations I use today I learned from other people with hearing loss or from experimenting with work-arounds on my own. This shouldn’t be the case.

People with hearing loss come to their audiologist looking for answers that work for their specific hearing challenges. Don’t get trapped in a hearing aid only approach. Linking aids to other assistive listening devices will give your clients greater access in a wider variety of situations, an important goal of person-centered cared.

Ways To Embrace Creativity In Your Audiologist Practice

I imagine most audiologists are eager to provide creative solutions to their patients, but perhaps they are not sure how to do it. Their training was focused on a very specific set of tests, measurements and procedures, and may have overlooked a more flexible approach to patient care. Operating outside the box is challenging, but can also be incredibly satisfying. Try these suggestions to jumpstart your creativity so you can better provide person-centered care for your patients. Your practice will thrive as a result.

1. Spend a day in your patients’ shoes. Wear earplugs to experience difficulty hearing in a variety of environments. Wear them to dinner with your family, at an important office meeting and during your morning commute. The more you understand about the challenges your patients face, the more gifted you will be at finding solutions that work.

2. Try the devices yourself. With appropriate volume controls, spend several days wearing hearing aids. How do the ear molds feel? Do the aids whistle in certain situations? What is it like to talk on the phone or eat in a noisy restaurant? You might discover some tricks to share with your patients.

3. Embrace technology. Explore various assistive listening technologies, perhaps in conjunction with your hearing aid wearing adventures. You will find that different tools will help in different situations. Some, like Roger pens may be from traditional hearing aid companies, while others may be apps or over-the-counter devices. The more you know, the better you can guide your patients towards quality alternatives at a variety of price points.

4. Promote T-coil technology. T-coils are not new, but many audiologists do not make patients aware of this useful technology. Please do, since T-coils can be life changing for many hearing aid wearers, particularly as looping systems become more prevalent globally.

5. Recognize technology is hard. Your patients need and appreciate your expertise and advice on which solutions are worth trying. When the United States market opens for OTC hearing aids, technological advancement will only accelerate. Your skills will be incredibly valuable as clients learn to navigate this changing landscape.

6. Unbundle your fees. Charging for your expertise and time rather than wrapping this all into the purchase of a hearing aid will help your clients better understand the value you provide. It may also shift your focus towards finding solutions more generally rather than selling hearing aids. Some patients might do better with alternative devices at first.  

Don’t be left behind. Innovation is the only constant in technology and in patient care. Staying on top of advancements will help you deliver superior care to your patients and keep your practice at the forefront of person-centered care.

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, an online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari 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. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.