New Tool to Explain Hearing Test Results Coming Soon

By Clint McLean

“I remember the first graph they showed me at the audiologist,” Mary Frey shares in one of our ethnographic videos, recalling the first time she took her daughter with hearing loss to an audiologist. “I didn’t understand what they were saying. She’d say, ‘Here’s the megahertz.’ I didn’t know what that meant, and I felt rather silly. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘What does she hear?”

It’s a common challenge for hearing care professionals to communicate a person’s hearing status to them in a way that is meaningful and easy to understand. Through our ethnographic studies, research, and interviews with people with hearing loss and hearing care professionals, we’ve recognized that the audiogram isn’t sufficient to address the issue—at least not on its own.

In a survey we conducted, 59 audiologists out of 71 always—or almost always—show the patient their audiogram. Despite its prevalence, on average, the 67 people with hearing loss who participated in our study rated their understanding of the audiogram only a 6 out of 10. They rated their ability to describe what they learned from their hearing care professional to their friends and loved ones only a 5 out of 10.

After ten months spent researching the problem through focus groups, surveys, in-depth interviews and clinical observations, we invited an international group of hearing care professionals, academics, and people with hearing loss to Denmark for the Understanding My Hearing workshop which took place in December 2018. The purpose of the workshop was to collaborate on a new tool to help people with hearing loss understand the results of hearing tests in practical terms and allow them to better explain their hearing ability clearly.

Greta Stamper, an audiologist at the Mayo Clinic, joined us for the workshop and explained, “The big message individuals want to know is, what is their hearing level at and how does that impact how they’re going to be able to live their life?” Stamper believes explaining the audiogram in detail is very useful for some people, but for others she says, “Explaining the audiogram is very complicated and it takes away from the main message that you want to convey to them.”

That was the experience of Ann Rancourt, an Understanding My Hearing participant who uses a cochlear implant and a hearing aid. She said, “I did not understand my audiogram at the beginning because it's so complex. It's like a web on the audiogram and there's so many lines and Xs and Os. I couldn’t figure out what was what.”

Based on the input gathered in this process, we are now prototyping a tool that can help hearing care professionals explain hearing loss to patients in a more person-centered way. We’ll be testing the tool with patients and professionals in the coming months. In March, we’ll be in Columbus, OH, for the American Academy of Audiology conference where we’ll continue refining it. We’ll keep you posted.