Heading to the audiologist, especially for the first time, can be an emotional and frightening experience for people with hearing loss. It certainly was for me. I wondered if the audiologist would understand my hearing problems. Would they find solutions to help me reengage with my family and friends – to communicate well in a variety of settings? Many people with hearing loss think about making an appointment for years before actually doing it, held back by stigma, denial, or fear.
However your patient finds their way to your door, it is up to you as an audiologist to make sure they feel like they have come to the right place. So how can you support your patients once they have arrived at your office? Here are my tips.
Make your office hearing loss friendly
Your office is the first thing your patients will notice. Make sure it is welcoming from the minute they arrive and that it acknowledges and treats their hearing difficulties with respect. Train your receptionist to speak loudly and clearly. People with hearing loss have trouble hearing in most situations. Make sure this is not the case in your clinic.
Provide relevant reading material in the waiting area. Learning how other people with hearing loss are overcoming their issues will help your patients feel less alone in their struggles. Post information about local hearing loss support groups and advertise upcoming events for people with hearing loss in your waiting area. Your patients may not know that movie theaters sometimes offer open captioned screenings or that museums give hearing accessible tours.
Let your patients know you will alert them personally when it is their turn. A light tap on the arm or a text message in a large office is all that is required. Your patients will be able to relax while they wait rather than remain on high alert for fear they will miss their name being called. This small procedural change sends a strong message that their needs are understood. For in-person visits during COVID-19, all staff should use clear masks to allow for lipreading.
Stock your office with accessibility tools to make communication easier. Keep pocket talkers or speech-to-text apps on hand to assist as needed. If you have a TV in your waiting room, make sure the captions are on. Loop the front desk to aid with checking in and checking out. This also provides an excellent way to test the t-coil functionality in a new hearing aid.
For telehealth appointments, use a platform with captions to ease communication. Consider using curb-side pick-up for hearing aid repairs to help with social distancing requirements.
Invite the patient’s family
Hearing loss is a family affair — the entire family is impacted. Unfortunately, some families are less than supportive of their relatives with hearing loss. They may discount the troubles they face or accuse them of not trying hard enough to hear. Your expert opinion and explanation of your patient’s hearing loss can help the family see the severity of the condition and realize that their assistance is needed for effective communication. The patient cannot do it all by themselves.
Teach the family communication best practices like getting the attention of the person with hearing loss before speaking or making sure they are facing the person when talking. These tips may seem obvious now, but they were not to me or my family at the start of my hearing loss journey. Small changes in behavior can have a huge impact on the quality of conversation for your patients and their families.
Families can also provide useful information for you to use when developing your treatment plan. Ask them what situations seem easiest and hardest for your patient and what tips and tricks they are already using to hear better. The more information you have, the more tailored you can be in finding possible solutions.
Take the time to listen and empathize
This seems obvious, but sometimes it is hard to take the time to listen well, when you have a stack of patients waiting outside your door. Remember your patient is the expert on their hearing loss, just as you are the expert on hearing aids and fittings. Their input is critical. Set the stage at the start of the appointment so they know how much time is allocated to each portion of the process — e.g., 10 minutes to understand the patient’s experiences, 10 minutes for a hearing test, etc. This will help keep you both on schedule.
Help manage time pressure by asking your patients to prepare for the appointment in advance by filling out a sheet with their primary hearing goals, the situations where they need the most help, and what accessibility tools they currently use, if any. This will help them organize their thoughts and be more efficient in communicating their story. Ida’s Living Well tool is a useful guide for this exercise.
It takes people with hearing loss an average of 7 to 10 years to seek treatment for their struggles. Make sure your office provides the support they need from the moment they come through the door. When your patients feel supported, they are more likely to follow the treatment plan and return to your office when changes in their hearing occur. They may even recommend your services to a friend.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, 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 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. 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: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.