I leaned over the receptionist desk trying to grasp the words she was mumbling into her computer. Was I to take a seat? Fill out forms? Was she talking to somebody else? I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that I was surprised and disappointed. This was a doctor’s office that specialized in auditory issues. My appointment was to see the doctor and have my hearing tested by an audiologist. I had expected them to understand my communication challenges.
Sitting in the waiting area for my appointment to begin, I was on high alert. “If they called my name, would I hear them?” I wondered to myself. After my treatment at the check-in desk, I was worried, so I remained vigilant for the 20 minutes I waited to be called. I would have much preferred to read the book I had brought along with me to fill that time.
Checking out was stressful. The receptionist continued mumbling into her computer even after I told her that I could not hear what she was saying. I felt embarrassed, exhausted and disrespected. I never returned to that office again.
It takes patients an average of 7-10 years to before they decide to treat their hearing loss – don’t scare them away at their first appointment. Person-centered care starts at the doorstep. And making your office hearing loss friendly from the moment they enter your clinic will help your patients feel like you are a true partner in their hearing care.
How To Make Your Office Hearing Loss Friendly
People come to your office because they cannot hear well. Treat them with respect from the moment they contact your office and through the entire appointment. Train your staff to use communication best practices, both in person and over the phone. Patients often arrive with anxiety about their hearing loss. Make sure your office gives them confidence that they have found the right partner to share their journey.
1. It starts with making the appointment. Using the phone is challenging for many people with hearing loss. Make sure your receptionist speaks slowly and clearly, particularly when talking on the phone. Even better, allow patients to make or confirm appointments via email or an online system.
2. Help your patients prepare. Give your patients a chance to think about their communication needs and concerns before coming to their appointment. This will help them articulate the support they need from you and help you give them the support they need. The Ida Institute offers free online tools that can help your patients prepare for the appointment. Check out Ida's Telecare tools.
3. Keep your office quiet and well lit. Background noise is uncomfortable for some people with hearing loss and makes it harder to hear. Use carpet or other sound absorbing materials to minimize sound. A well-lit office is also better for lipreading.
4. Share relevant literature in your waiting area. Provide information and brochures from local hearing loss support groups and recommend that your patients give one a try. If you are based in the US, Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) publishes a bi-monthly consumer magazine for its members featuring interesting articles for people with hearing loss.
5. Alert patients personally when the audiologist is ready for them. Even in a small office, patients may have difficulty hearing if their name is called. Let them know you will tap them on the arm when it is their turn to see the audiologist so they can relax while waiting. In a larger office, a text message or email alert could also suffice.
6. Display your favorite hearing loss accessories so your patients can try them. Keep a portable hearing loop at your reception desk to aid with checking patients in and out. It can also be used to demonstrate T-coil functionality. Use a corner of your waiting area to highlight TV connectivity tools, captioned telephones and the latest apps or gadgets to make living with hearing loss easier. Your patients will thank you for the information.
7. Supply a written summary of the visit. Your patients may be missing important details about their care but are embarrassed to ask you to repeat them. Include test results, what they mean, and a list of recommended action items in writing at each appointment. A simple checklist keeps the message clear and does not take much time to complete. Patients can share this document with their family to keep them involved in their care and refer to it if they have questions after the appointment.
8. Make checking out at the desk stress-free. Your final touch point with your patient is often the reception desk where payment is transacted or a follow-up appointment is made. Make sure this process goes smoothly by providing hearing assistance through a hearing loop or a pocket talker device. Present all financial details in writing so the patient can review them clearly and without worry.
The look and feel of your office communicates a lot about you and is the first thing your patients will notice. A calm and accessible environment will inspire your patients to approach the appointment with optimism and an open mind. Check out these design related Ida Tools to get your creative juices flowing.
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.