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.
My name was called and my heart jumped. I was here to get my hearing tested. It wasn’t the first time, but I knew my hearing problems had gotten worse. This time it was likely the audiologist would recommend hearing aids. I didn’t want them, but I knew it was time.
I didn’t know much about hearing loss or the types of hearing aids that were available. I had never heard of assistive listening devices or communication best practices for people with hearing loss. I expected lots of questions about where and when I had trouble hearing, but the conversation centered on the hearing aids. Did I want them to be visible? To have different programs? What was my budget?
I walked in scared, impressionable and looking for help. I walked out much the same way, but with a pair of hearing aids on order. A successful visit for my audiologist, but not for me. Once my hearing aids arrived, I had little motivation to wear them and a limited understanding of other things I could be doing to improve my chances for better communication. This could have been avoided if my audiologist had practiced person-centered care, especially the first tenet — Partner with Your Patient.
Each Hearing Loss Journey is Unique
Each person’s hearing loss journey is unique. Some people have had hearing issues since birth, others only a short time. The severity of hearing loss can vary widely, as does the curve of the audiogram. Some patients will be strong lip-readers, even without realizing it, while others will not. Lifestyles will differ. Some may need to communicate with people at work each day while others are retired or work independently. Some enjoy music or theater performances, while others prefer lectures or movies. Just like in the population at large, each of us with hearing loss is an individual. A one-size-fits-all approach to our hearing problems will not work.
While patient characteristics differ widely, many share the same feelings about their hearing loss — fear, anger, sadness, and frustration. Take time to understand each person’s hearing loss story. Not only will you show compassion and respect for their journey, you will learn critical details about their lifestyle and hearing goals. Combining these with analytical tools like audiograms and speech in noise tests, you can tailor your technology and rehabilitation recommendations to their specific needs. Focusing on the patient’s high priority items will boost patient satisfaction and compliance with the treatment plan.
Why You Should Partner with Your Patient
Nobody understands a person’s hearing difficulties better than the person experiencing them, making their input of paramount importance. People want solutions for their specific communication challenges, not simply amplification. The first step in creating a successful treatment plan is finding out what the most important problems are from the patient’s perspective, something only they can provide.
1. Analytics don’t tell the full story. Audiograms and other tests are imperative in understanding absolute hearing thresholds, but they don’t reveal outside factors like the person’s work environment or what coping strategies they already employ. Focus on their individual priorities, not what worked for others with similar test results.
2. Shared goals build enthusiasm. Human nature suggests that when people are involved in the creation of a plan, they are more likely to support its goals and aid in its implementation. Building a treatment plan together will increase your patients’ motivation to take the steps required and keep them engaged in the process.
3. Focused planning streamlines treatment time. Investing time up-front to identify the person’s critical hearing issues will minimize follow up appointments because the hearing aids are not “working.” Together you can set realistic expectations, goals and deadlines for both of you, improving the efficiency and efficacy of your working relationship.
4. More tailored results mean happier patients. Focusing on the highest impact areas will help your patients experience improvements more quickly and in the areas that are most important to them, leading to higher satisfaction and better outcomes. Happy patients are more likely to recommend your services to a friend.
5. Family involvement increases the likelihood of success. Engaged patients are more likely to include family in their treatment plan, leading to better insights into difficult communication situations from both perspectives. Incorporating the family’s input creates a strong support network for your patient where they need it most.
To prepare your patients for their first appointment with you, recommend they do some prep work ahead of time. Ask them to identify their most challenging communication problems and the top three situations where they desire improvement. You can create your own form or borrow from one or more of these Ida tools created for that purpose.