Learning to Hear: Finally, the Technology

tech

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:

dusty graphic

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, AuDis 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.

 

Become a (Hearing) Environmentalist

dusty4

 

Communication is a complex puzzle that requires all pieces to be properly placed. It is critical for audiologists to address all pieces of that puzzle during the aural rehabilitation process to ensure a successful outcome for the patient. A comprehensive counseling protocol should thoroughly address the following five keys to communication success:

dusty graphic

My previous blogs focused on the roles of the speaker and the listener in a communication exchange. Today we’ll address the third key to communication success: environment. No, I’m not talking about the trees and the birds! When it comes to communication, environmental modifications often have the biggest impact, yet they are often overlooked. Let’s take a look at one of the most difficult listening situations for people with hearing loss, and how environmental modifications can reduce potential communication challenges.

The hastily-educated patient:

Mr. Jones and his wife are looking forward to dinner at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. After a busy day, they rush out of the house at 5:30 p.m., hoping they won’t have to wait too long for a table. They are both starving, so they accept the first-available table, which happens to be in the middle of the restaurant and close to the kitchen. Mr. Jones is still adapting to his new hearing aids and feels overwhelmed by all of the noise. They are surrounded by families with loud children, clanking dishes, and noises from the kitchen. He and his wife can hardly hear each other above all the noise and feel frustrated that they weren’t able to fully enjoy their anniversary dinner. They are both disappointed that his new hearing aids did not perform better in this situation.

The well-educated patient:

Mr. Jones and his wife are looking forward to dinner at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. They make a 4:00pm reservation and request a corner booth with good lighting. When they arrive for dinner, they are pleased to find that they nearly have the restaurant to themselves. They are seated immediately, served quickly, and enjoy reminiscing about the past year over a pleasant early dinner. Mr. Jones is pleased that his new hearing aids made it easier to hear his wife’s voice.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which scenario will result in a more satisfied patient outcome. Determine which situations are most challenging for your patients, and help them to develop an “environmental modification” plan for those specific situations. These plans typically incorporate some version of the following two elements:

1. Reducing background noise
2. Improving visibility (ex. lighting, proximity, orientation)

It is our professional responsibility to make sure that every patient is educated and equipped with tools and strategies that address all pieces of the communication puzzle. They must understand that environmental modifications are just as important as the hearing aids. While thorough patient education may take a bit longer in the beginning, it almost always saves valuable clinic time in the end. The resulting patient success and satisfaction certainly make it time well-spent.

 

Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuDis 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.

 

 

 

Aural Rehab: Getting an “A” in Listening

listening

There is no denying that aural rehab is critical for patient success with amplification. Unfortunately, most hearing care professionals do not implement a structured, patient-focused aural rehab program. They report lack of time, lack of patient compliance, and lack of reimbursement as the common challenges. As a practicing audiologist, I face these challenges on a daily basis, which prompted me to develop the 5 Keys to Communication Success and the Cut to the Chase Counseling program. The 5 Keys to Communication Success are:

dusty graphic

Educating our patients about these five simple keys to successful communication will help them to understand a few important points:

  • Communication is like a puzzle that requires several pieces to work properly.
  • Hearing aids are only one piece of this communication puzzle.
  • Involvement of family members, friends, and caregivers is essential.

When patients fully grasp the complexity of communication, and understand that each piece of the puzzle is critical for communication success, they are much more likely to be satisfied with their hearing aids and to comply with our recommendations.
My previous blog went into detail about the first key, The Speaker.
Today I’ll dive deeper into the second Key to Communication Success: The Listener. Most of the listener strategies we attempt to teach our patients are critical for all listeners, including those with perfect hearing. However, the importance increases exponentially when the listener is challenged by hearing loss. We must impress upon our patients that implementing these strategies is just as important as wearing their hearing aids.
Listener strategies revolve around the concept of active listening. The listener is no longer allowed to sit back and passively expect communication to happen effortlessly. Even with new hearing aids, this is an unrealistic expectation. I encourage my patients to earn an “A” in listening. To accomplish this, they must:

  • Be aware of their surroundings.
  • Anticipate what might be said.
  • Take action to make sure they can clearly see the speaker’s face.

As with all of the communication keys, I find it works best to classify the listener strategies by environment. For example, in a restaurant environment I instruct the listeners to read and discuss the menu ahead of time, to focus on the facial expressions and lip movements of the speaker, and to actively “tune out” the noises that aren’t helpful for communication. We also discuss listener strategies for the following environments: around the house, in the car, dining out, on the phone, and public events. While repetition of strategies is common between environments, I find that patients are more likely to retain and implement the information when it is applied to a specific situation where they experience listening challenges. It is also easier for patients to grasp the importance of these strategies when they see them repeated across environments.
The ultimate goal is to equip and empower our patients with a multitude of tools that will facilitate successful communication. The simple structure of the 5 Keys to Communication Success makes this easier and more efficient for both clinicians and patients alike. Next month I’ll discuss the third key: Environment.

 

Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuDis 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.

 

Aural Rehab: The Role of the Speaker

speaker
In my last blog post, Aural Rehab: Are we getting the job done?, I discussed the challenges faced by audiologists when it comes to the education and counseling aspects of the aural rehab process. I gave a brief overview of our Cut to the Chase counseling program, and introduced the “5 Keys to Communication Success.” Educating our patients about these five simple keys to successful communication will help them to understand a few important points:
• Communication is like a puzzle that requires several pieces to work properly.
• Hearing aids are only one piece of this communication puzzle.
• Involvement of family members, friends, and caregivers is essential.
When patients fully grasp the complexity of communication, and understand that each piece of the puzzle is critical for communication success, they are much more likely to be satisfied with their hearing aids and to comply with our recommendations.
Let’s take a closer look at the first key to communication success: The Speaker. Obviously the speaker and the listener are the two most important keys, as there would not be a communication exchange without them. But the speaker is arguably the most important key as they are responsible for creating a clear message that will be understood by their listener. This is why it is so important to involve family members in the aural rehab process. I’m sure I’m not the only audiologist who has experienced the following scenario:
I just fit Mr. Jones with new hearing aids, verified his fitting, and asked him what he thinks. He smiles and reports that they sound kind of strange, but that my voice seems nice and clear. He then turns to his wife and asks her to say something. Rather than looking at her husband and speaking to him in a normal tone, Mrs. Jones stands, walks to the far side of the office, and (with her back toward him) whispers to her husband, “Can you hear me now?”
Of course, Mr. Jones cannot hear her and, although I may have slightly unpleasant words going through my head for Mrs. Jones, I find this is the perfect time to educate her about her essential role as the speaker. I teach my patients to use their senses as a reminder about their critical role in the communication process.

The first sense is vision. The listener must be able to see the speaker’s face. This means that the speaker will often have to go to the listener before they begin speaking. Other times, the speaker will need to call to the listener, and wait for the listener to come to them before they begin speaking. This eliminates the difficulties associated with speaking from another room, or with their back toward the listener. Sometimes, however, this is not enough. That’s when we turn to the sense of touch.

When the speaker moves close enough to the listener that they can actually reach out and touch them, the speaker and the listener are perfectly situated for a perfect communication exchange. Sometimes the listener is so intent on a television program that they simply don’t hear the speaker calling to them. Rather than getting angry and yelling, I teach my patients to gently touch the listener on the arm to get their attention, and their message will then be received successfully.
Of course, we also teach the family members and caregivers to speak clearly and not to over-exaggerate their words. We encourage them to alert the listener to changes in topic, and to check-in frequently to make sure they are being understood. Most importantly, we try to impress upon the speakers that they are half of the equation when it comes to communication. We let them know that they can either be half of the problem, or half of the solution. This may seem harsh, but the importance should not be understated if we are to provide our patients with complete communication solutions! Next month we’ll focus on the other half of that equation: The Listener.

Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuDis 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.

Aural Rehab: Are We Getting the Job Done?

tin can 2Aural rehabilitation was once the root of our profession. ASHA defines it as “an ecological interactive process that facilitates one’s ability to minimize or prevent the limitations and restrictions that auditory dysfunctions can impose on well-being and communication, including interpersonal, psycho-social, educational and vocational functioning.” Audiologists know the importance of providing our patients with education, counseling, and training to overcome the challenges presented by hearing loss. However, the most recent MarkeTrak survey results indicate that very few of us are actually providing these services to our patients. This is an unsettling finding to say the least.

I truly believe that most audiologists attempt to provide their patients with adequate education and counseling. However, these MarkeTrak survey results prove that our attempts are not being received by our patients. I believe there are two factors at play: technological overwhelm, and unrealistic expectations. Patients are often so overwhelmed by the vast array of technology at their fingertips that their sole focus is on the technical workings of the hearing aids and wireless accessories. In addition, the vast improvements in technology lead our patients to believe that the hearing aids alone should address all their communication problems. What we are missing is a standardized, effective, and efficient aural rehab protocol that helps our patients to retain what they have learned, and use the strategies we teach them.

As a practicing audiologist, I face these challenges on a daily basis. As technology progresses, I find myself spending more clinic time educating my patients on the technical aspects of their new hearing aids. In a busy ENT clinic, time is of the essence, and this leaves very little time for counseling about realistic expectations, communication strategies, and auditory training. I tried various educational handouts as well as group AR classes, but struggled with patient compliance. I also found it difficult to engage family members in the rehabilitation process. When I read the MarkeTrak survey results, I realized I wasn’t the only audiologist facing these challenges. So in 2013 I set out to develop a fun and effective approach to aural rehab that would be easy for patients to comply with, and efficient for professionals to implement. I call it Cut to the Chase Counseling. There are three simple steps to this aural rehab approach:

1. Education: Patients need to be educated in a fun, easy, and efficient way. While there are many great educational materials on the market, I chose to create my own patient guidebook that organizes communication strategies into five simple keys (see below) that are easy for patients to remember. It is also important that our education addresses realistic hearing aid expectations as well as the importance of family member involvement. Our aural rehab approach defines the following components as the “5 Keys to Communication Success.” I will discuss these further in future blog posts.

2. Action: Patients need to immediately act on what they’ve learned to begin creating new communication habits early in their rehab process. We start this action with personalized Successful Communication Plans that guide the patient and their communication partners as they apply the five keys to their most challenging communication situations.

3. Follow-up: Patients simply cannot absorb and retain all of the education and counseling during their hearing aid trial period. They are often so overwhelmed by their hearing aids, that they may actually remember precious little from what we have been teaching them. For this reason, they must receive some kind of regular follow-up education. Studies show that consistent long-term follow-up drastically increases patient compliance and satisfaction. We provide this follow-up in the form of weekly emails that patients receive for an entire year following their hearing aid fitting. These emails reinforce effective communication strategies and encourage the patients to return to their hearing care professional with any questions or concerns.

We know that our job as rehabilitative audiologists goes far beyond fitting hearing aids. I hope this simple three-step approach will provide an efficient way for professionals to ensure that education and counseling are an integral part of every hearing aid fitting. In the following five blogs, I will dig deeper into the five keys to communication success and give you strategies for integrating them into your practice.

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.