Never Having to Say ‘I’m Sorry’

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“I’m sorry to tell you that Sara has a permanent hearing loss.” One of the less glamorous aspects of being an audiologist is telling a parent that his or her child has a hearing loss. Although this is difficult news to deliver, how you convey that information can potentially have as much of an impact as the hearing loss itself.

Instead of apologizing for delivering this news, another way to frame the conversation is to say, “I know this may come as a surprise to you, but…” Although semantically similar to the apologetic statement, qualitative and anecdotal research has shown that parents will remember verbatim how the news was delivered to them.  As Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a professor of mental health counseling at Gallaudet University who also teaches counseling skills to audiology students, comments, “This kind of subliminal language, though not intentional, can have real consequences for how the family approaches this news and can set lower or even negative expectations for the abilities of the child”.

Another example of negative messaging is using the word “fail” with regard to newborn hearing screenings.  Not only does “fail” suggest a hearing loss that very well may not be present; it can also make parents defensive. As one parent commented, “How could my daughter fail a test that she didn’t know she was taking?” Many institutions, including Boston Children’s Hospital and Gallaudet University, have incorporated this language into their clinical practice.

Knowing your audience is also important. For example, some deaf parents may be excited and happy to learn that their child has a severe to profound hearing loss. As one deaf parent explained, “With my first child, my husband delivered the results of the newborn hearing screening. He came into my room saying, ‘Alright she did it! Our baby passed the test; she’s deaf!’  When this occurred with our second child however, we were both surprised to learn that he passed in the sense that he was hearing and not deaf like us.”

Other deaf parents may be disappointed or have mixed feelings about this news. Most deaf babies are born to hearing parents who are in complete shock when they learn of the results.  By framing the news in a neutral manner, you are putting yourself in a position to support the parent and answer any questions they may have.

Although we are certainly not denying the shock and grief that most parents experience when facing a diagnosis of hearing loss, the less negative we can make the message, the better. Suhana Alam, a deaf adult recently selected to speak on a panel of successful deaf college students at the Annual Early Hearing Detection & Intervention Meeting in April commented, “The provider…needs to make sure the parents understand that their child’s brain works just fine; he or she just has limited hearing capability.”

As audiologists, we can then work with the family in providing information on the full range of communication options available to them.

Regardless of whether we are seasoned audiologists with years of experience or new audiologists beginning our professional careers, we are constantly adapting to change in audiology and critical evaluation of our language and word choice are easy adjustments that we can make for our patients and family members.
Cynthia Frey wrote this article with Whitney Kidd. Both are graduate clinicians in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants, Toddlers, and Families: Collaboration and Leadership Program at Gallaudet University.

What Has ASHA Done for Us Audiologists Lately?

hearing aid shutterstockRecently, I was asked by a friend (another audiologist) why I belong to ASHA and what do they do for me? After all, they were the organization for speech-language pathology and really didn’t care about audiology except for the CCC-A, as believed by some. This led me to reflect on why I feel ASHA’s membership benefits me as an audiologist, focusing on the past few years.

Just in the last year, ASHA has provided me with a wealth of information related to reimbursement issues, which was developed in collaboration with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the Directors of Speech and Hearing Programs in State, Health and Welfare Agencies, Academy of Rehabilitative Audiology, the Educational Audiology Association, and the American Academy of Audiology.

For me, the guidance for audiologists on reviewing third party payer provider contracts was a very timely and helpful reminder because—at that time—my practice was being approached by a number of entities to provide hearing aid services.

Another helpful resource was the question and answer document about the new Otoacoustic CPT Codes that gave me information on how to bill these codes appropriately. There was also information on new requirements for the Physician Quality Reporting System, which helped me too. Aside from these useful and helpful resources, I appreciate that the information was developed jointly and shared within the audiology community.

When I think about advocacy being a member benefit, I’m thankful for quite a few things that ASHA’s advocacy team has pushed for, including:

  • A comprehensive audiology benefit. This will allow me to provide the necessary rehabilitative/habilitative services to the people I serve. This proposal will recognize that audiologists are the best providers of these services. As health care moves toward prevention of health problems and a new payment system, this will allow me to provide therapy services as part of a team!
  • Legislation related to early detection of hearing loss. The outcome of that work has benefited so many of the children and families we serve.
  • Legislation that averted the proposed 20 percent cut in Medicare payments. These have been scheduled to take place every year for the last several years, but keep getting extended. I can’t help but think that ASHA’s lobbyists have been instrumental in helping in that effort.

ASHA’s ongoing advocacy for the profession of audiology has benefited me in so many ways. Recently, ASHA was very helpful working out the “kinks” in the federal employee health benefits hearing aid plan. ASHA is also developing and implementing plans to help us navigate through the new accountable care organizations.  And, they are working diligently to see that we have a voice in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

As I continued to think of all of the benefits from ASHA membership—as an audiologist—I realized there has been great value in continuing to be a member of ASHA!  I want to thank my friend for asking me why I still belong.


Stuart Trembath, MA, CCC-A, is chair of ASHA’s Health Care Economics Committee and co-owner of Hearing Associates in Mason City, Iowa.