5 ways to improve the patient experience in tinnitus care

Tinnitus expert, Dr. Ben Thompson, explains how reassurance and education can help you better engage patients in meaningful tinnitus management.

In a 2016 study in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, of the nearly one in ten adults in the U.S. who experience tinnitus, fewer than half had discussed their condition with a hearing care professional.1

Of patients who’d sought treatment, most were either told that nothing could be done, or prescribed medication. While medication matters, there is so much more that can be done to support individuals with problematic and often painful ringing in their ears.

When someone that is struggling with tinnitus comes to you with concerns about their hearing, they’re typically motivated by two major issues. First, they want to make sure that the ringing in their ears isn’t indicative of a much more serious condition causing their discomfort, like a tumor or injury. Second, they’re seeking relief from the incredibly disruptive impact that tinnitus can have on sleep, conversation, concentration, and overall wellness.

The patient experience, then, should always begin with listening to their concerns and offering both the knowledge and reassurance that their improved health is your number one priority.

5 ways to improve the patient experience

  1. Set expectations – In the spirit of fostering an open and trusting relationship, it’s also important for clinicians to be upfront with patients about what they can expect from the process of diagnosis and treatment – beginning with the very first evaluations. Talk them through the tests you’ll be performing, including audiometric testing and medical evaluations, which are standard for new patients with tinnitus.
  2. Establish rapport – As you move through the tests and interpret results, communicate clearly with your patients. It’s critical to establish a rapport with patients so that they can navigate through the various clinical interactions and referrals they will encounter as seamlessly and as informed as possible.
  3. Provide education on tinnitus – Beyond ensuring their comfort with the steps in the course of care, make sure they’re also familiar with the actual inner workings of their bodies. Explain the peripheral and central auditory systems that are thought to be related to tinnitus, so they understand what tinnitus is, what it isn’t, and how available therapies can help reduce unwanted sounds. Educate them in plain language on the auditory system, the range of conditions that affect the ears and hearing and take time to correct misconceptions – like common beliefs that tinnitus always gets louder or is symptomatic of progressive hearing loss.
  4. Provide reassurance – It’s also helpful to remind them that they’re not alone. As previously noted, the prevalence of tinnitus is estimated to be about one in 10 young adults, 14% of middle-aged individuals, and a full quarter of older adults.2. And although the condition is uncomfortable, roughly 80% of sufferers eventually habituate to the ringing in their ears and learn to co-exist with tinnitus.3
  5. Educate on management options – Lastly, make sure they’re aware of the many available management options out there. Tinnitus care has come a long way in recent decades. And while some of the interventions for tinnitus, like sound therapy, narrowly treat disruptive sounds, many modalities may help tinnitus pain and foster whole-person health. This includes meditation, cognitive behavior therapy, acupuncture, stress reduction, and other tools that can serve patients well both between their ears and across the lifespan.

For more on the role of patient counseling, we recommend reviewing the AAO-HNS’ clinical guidelines for tinnitus, which urges education as a vital part of tinnitus management and offers resources to discuss with patients.4

In my next article in this series, I will discuss ways to include patient perspective in tinnitus care.


1. Bhatt, J.M., Lin, H.W. & Bhattacharyya, N. (2016). Prevalence, severity, exposures, and treatment patterns of tinnitus in the United States. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg; 142(10): 959–965. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2016.1700.

2. Jarach, C. M., Lugo, A., Scala, M., van den Brandt, P. A., Cederroth, C. R., Odone, A., … & Gallus, S. (2022). Global prevalence and incidence of tinnitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA neurology.

3. Jastreboff, P.J. & Hazell, J.W. (2004). Tinnitus retraining therapy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

4. Tunkel, D.E., Bauer, C.A., Sun, G.H., et al. (2014). Clinical Practice Guideline: Tinnitus. Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery; 151(2_suppl): S1-S40. doi:10.1177/0194599814545325.

We invite you to read a previous article on this same topic, by Dr. Dany Pineault – Counseling strategies for bothersome tinnitus.