With COVID-19, both providers and people with hearing loss have faced enormous changes in their daily routines, communication methods, and quality of life. You may not be able to see your clients face-to-face for many months, but that does not mean their hearing health should take a back seat. It is more important than ever to practice person-centered care by allowing your clients to act as true partners in their care. With physical distancing, clients will need to take more responsibility for their own hearing health. You can help them do that successfully. Working together may inspire improvements in process that endure beyond these challenging times.
How can providers best partner with their patients during the COVID-19 crisis? Here are my suggestions.
1. Continue to connect with clients
Hearing health does not stop just because we are socially distant. Move appointments online by using video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. Please provide captions to make communication as easy as possible for your clients. CART is an expensive option, but luckily, high quality auto captions are available on certain platforms. Google Meet recently made its video conferencing platform available for free for everyone. This petition encourages other video conference call platforms to do the same for people with hearing loss.
2. Adapt your communication tips for the changing times
Teaching your clients communication best practices has always been an important part of person-centered care. Keep your tips current by incorporating advice for new challenges like attending video conference calls and communicating with people wearing masks.
Video calls require extra concentration
Endless video calls can be exhausting for everyone, put particularly for people with hearing loss. Poor audio and questionable syncing of sound can make it harder to understand speech. If captions are not available on the calls, advise clients to use speech-to-text apps on their smartphones to help with understanding. My favorites are Live Transcribe (only on Android) and Otter.ai.
Masks bring on new challenges for people with hearing loss
Wearing masks in public spaces is important for health reasons, but it makes communication very difficult for people with hearing loss. Masks not only reduce the sound of speech by up to 12 decibels, they hide important lipreading cues that make it easier to understand what others are saying. Speech-to-text apps can also help here. Warn your clients about the risk of lost devices since mask straps can easily get tangled with behind-the-ear hearing aids and cochlear implants. Using sport bands to secure the devices can be helpful in keeping them safe.
3. Structure your appointments efficiently
When you are not in the same space as your clients during appointments, it is easy to get sidetracked. Keep the dialogue focused by using Ida Telecare tools that help your clients gather their thoughts before the appointment. Tools like Living Well will help you more quickly pinpoint your clients' primary hearing difficulties so you can concentrate your efforts on improving those. Many of their concerns may be new ones related to the current crisis.
4. Promote independence
In this new world of remote care, you will not be able to manually adjust every setting or clean every wax guard for all of your clients. Teach your clients the skills they need to care for and maintain their devices by themselves from home. These new abilities will build their confidence and free up time in post-pandemic appointments for counseling and aural rehabilitation activities. Consider remote programming of devices as well. Many manufacturers offer this feature.
5. Think outside the hearing aid
Hearing aids and cochlear implants are miracle devices that help your clients hear their best, but in these challenging times, other options may be needed, particularly if a device becomes lost or broken. Become familiar with high quality over-the-counter amplification devices like Bose Hearphones or the Ear Machine app that you can recommend to patients. These options work best for people with mild to moderate hearing loss but in a pinch may be better than nothing for clients with higher degrees of loss. Speech-to-text apps are helpful for people with all degrees of hearing loss.
Disruption to normal patterns can often bring about positive change. Let’s hope COVID-19 is no different. Practicing person-centered care will help you forge strong relationships with your clients during this time of crisis and help them develop the self management skills they will need for success with their hearing health for years to come.
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. She recently authored, “Person-centered Care from the Patient’s Perspective,” an eBook detailing her experience 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: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.