As a person with lifelong hearing loss (PWHL), I’ve met a lot of audiologists. Big ones, little ones, cool-as-a-cucumber audiologists and those who cry along with me during a meeting. I’ve worked with answer-on-the spot types, those who say “I’m-not-sure-about-that-let-me-get-back-to-you”, and some who just say they don’t know (the answer to a question). I’ve worked with audiologists who care about clients’ overall communication needs and those who are only focused on getting hearing aids into ears. I’ve been in audiology clinics that are accessible and comfortable and I’ve been in those that are noisy and lacking privacy.
As a PWHL-cum-advocate, I’ve been around the hearing loss block more than a few times and I haven’t stopped running yet. Along the way, I’ve developed what I believe is a pretty clear picture of what people like me want and need in order to hear better. But many people tend to lay that bundle of need-wants at the feet of our hearing care professionals, allowing us to blame them (or the hearing aid itself) for any failures. Years ago, I realized that I too have responsibilities in the process towards better communication and I’ve seen the stunningly positive outcomes when both sides work together to identify and implement a long-term plan of action.
A few years ago, audiologist Joanne Deluzio and I decided to write a book on the client-clinician relationship. Our only qualifications were Joanne’s 30-odd years of being an audiologist and my 40 years of experience of muddling through hearing loss and a mid-life epiphany that morphed into becoming an advocate, writer and public speaker. We would have been ahead of our time if we had actually written the book, but other life priorities intervened. We did manage, however, to hammer out our shared vision of a successful client-clinician relationship.
So, what do your most successful clients look like? Having met many, many people in the hearing loss community, I believe the most effective are those who:
- Understand the Big Picture (what to expect on the hearing loss journey)
- Are comfortable self-identifying with hearing loss
- Make good communication their goal (not just to hear better)
- Use a variety of technical and non-technical communication strategies
- Know how to express their needs and have them met
- Trust, learn from, and enjoy working with you, their hearing care professional.
There is no set timeline for success. Optimal communication varies from person to person and involves different mixes of communication tools. But this one thing is true for anyone who wants to succeed: The journey starts with me, the individual with hearing loss, and it continues with you, my hearing care professional.
Achieving optimal communication is not limited to a course of action prescribed by a hearing care professional. It begins with personal suspicion of hearing loss (or acceptance of the nagging opinions of family and friends) that kickstarts a communication journey that will be most fruitful when backed by a solid client-clinician relationship. Without it, audiologists will continue to tangle with clients who have a different − yet not always wrong − understanding of the process needed to communicate in a satisfying way.
While my job is to contact you for an appointment, it’s your job to get this relationship ball rolling. That may not seem fair, but that’s the way it is. I can’t meet you halfway, because you have the knowledge and the expertise, whereas I have only the life experience. How about I meet you a third of the way. If I get to the halfway point, it’s because you will have invited, informed and encouraged me to partner with you. You will have made clear the powerful mutual benefits of doing so, along with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
People new to hearing loss can’t always put their feelings into words or explain what they hear or don’t hear. They may labor under the stigma of hearing loss and rage against hearing aids. They bluff and pretend to hear because they don’t understand the consequences of hearing loss or are in denial. Many may not fully grasp their right to participate or that most family and friends are willing allies in achieving better communication. This negativity that imperils their ability to have their needs met can change.
These are not human lumps of clay that can be molded into the professional model of a successful hearing aid user. Think of us as potential partners who, by working with you, can help you meet your needs. We have many challenges that require your expert handling, ranging from the fear of failure in the sound booth, resistance to technology, and managing group conversations.
The payoffs for both client and clinicians are numerous. Your client will benefit from a better overall management of their personal hearing loss, resolution of psychosocial issues, better success with hearing technologies and other communication tools and, of course, increased professional support.
What do you get? Nothing more than fulfillment of your professional mandate, greater job satisfaction because of higher client success rate, long-term and dedicated clients, and the important referral business.
If hearing loss were new to me, the confident, listening audiologist who takes my hand would become a very important person in my life. Even now, I need to hold such strong hands from time to time.
Gael Hannan is a renowned writer, humorist and public speaker on hearing loss issues. Over the past 20 years, she has created awareness campaigns, school programs and award-winning videos that help people to live more successfully with hearing loss – their own and that of others. Gael has an international following for her weekly articles on HearingHealthMatters.org, her book The Way I Hear It, and her dynamic presentations that leave her audiences in both tears and laughter. Connect with her on social media and gaelhannan.com.