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:

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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: 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.