Hearing aids have improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. The advanced signal processing and wireless connectivity options absolutely boggle the mind. As an audiologist, I’m constantly amazed at what today’s hearing aids are capable of doing for patients. I’m equally amazed at what my patients expect the hearing aids to be capable of doing for them; yet can we blame them? They are bombarded by newspaper advertisements and mailers boasting the incredible benefits of modern hearing aids. They don’t understand what all is (or should be) included in bundled pricing, so they figure that a $X,000 pair of hearing aids should fix their hearing problems and more. I believe these inflated expectations, coupled with a lack of comprehensive patient education during the rehabilitative process, explain why patient satisfaction and market penetration are not increasing at the same rate as the technological advancements in amplification.
So how do we address these issues? The answer always goes back to the root of our profession. As audiologic rehabilitation specialists, our job is to equip our patients with tools and strategies necessary to function successfully in the world, despite their hearing loss. Patients must understand that hearing aids are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to successful communication. In fact, there are five essential keys to communication success:
In previous blogs we’ve discussed listener strategies, speaker strategies, and environmental modifications as critical parts of the communication puzzle. During the aural rehabilitation process, I deliberately present those pieces before I discuss technology options. Listener strategies empower the patient to take responsibility for their hearing loss. Speaker strategies engage the communication partners to be involved. Environmental modifications make the patient and their communication partners aware of their surroundings and empower them to actively create the best possible listening situations.
When we’re finally ready to present technology options, there are two important points to keep in mind. First, we need to be sure we are presenting options. I don’t mean options in terms of different hearing aid manufacturers. I mean options in terms of ALL the technology options appropriate for the patient, based on his or her specific listening challenges. I present the options as a continuum, with inexpensive assistive listening devices and personal sound amplifiers on one end, and high end hearing aids with wireless accessories on the other end. Obviously there are many technological options in between. Second, it is critical that the technology options are presented in conjunction with the other strategies discussed. Patients must understand that technology must be combined with speaker and listener strategies and environmental modifications. The speaker, listener, environment, and technology keys are equally important when it comes to ensuring a successful communication exchange.
The fifth key to communication success is practice. Patients can learn all the communication strategies in the world, but they won’t help a bit if they don’t actually use them. The same goes for technology. Patients can buy the most advanced digital hearing aids available, but they are just a waste of money if they refuse to wear them in all of their challenging listening situations. As rehabilitation specialists, we are responsible for motivating our patients to practice and use all that they’ve learned. We must find ways to hold them accountable and create a follow-up plan that ensures long-term success.
Patients with hearing loss have many options when it comes to pursuing technology. As audiologists, it is our responsibility to make them see the “big picture” and implement a comprehensive plan that addresses all pieces of the communication puzzle. I truly believe that patient satisfaction and market penetration rates will only increase when we return to our roots and make patient education the focus of our rehabilitation efforts.
Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuD, is a practicing audiologist in a busy ENT clinic in Littleton, Colo. She is the founder of Cut to the Chase Communication, LLC, a company dedicated to providing “fun, easy, and effective” counseling tools for busy hearing care professionals. She is also the author of Frustrated by Hearing Loss? 5 Keys to Communication Success. Dr. Jessen can be contacted at info@CutToTheChaseCommunication.com.