That first audiologist appointment can be an emotional experience for people at the start of their hearing loss journey. Finally admitting that you have a hearing loss and that you need to do something about it can be depressing, shrouded in stigma and downright scary. Combine this with needing to speak on the phone to make the appointment — a dreaded task for many people with hearing loss — and it is no wonder the average person with hearing loss waits 7-10 years to treat it!
Our trepidation continues as we arrive for the first appointment, but there is also hope. We wonder: Will the audiologist focus on the communication challenges that are most important to me? Will I leave with tools and skills that enhance my ability to live my life fully? Will I find a partner in my hearing care? Employ the tips in this article, and your patients will be answering yes to each of these questions.
Ten ways to improve your patient’s first audiologist appointment
- Acknowledge the patient’s hearing loss story. Ask us why we are there and listen to the answer. It will provide important details about our lifestyle and the types of communication situations that are most important to us. Your positive response will set the right tone for the appointment and create an honest working dialogue from the start.
- Use communication best practices. Your patients are there because they cannot hear well. Treat them with respect by speaking clearly and at a moderate pace. Face them and keep your mouth uncovered. Train your office staff to follow suit, in person and over the phone. Consider investing in a hearing loop system or other assistive listening technologies for your office to aid in communication if needed.
- Practice person-centered care. Work to find solutions to your patients’ specific communication challenges, rather than simply amplification. Some may require assistance for hearing at work, others only socially. Involving the patient in the development of the treatment plan creates buy-in and increased motivation to comply.
- Make your office hearing loss friendly. Many people with hearing loss miss their name being called, even in a small office. Taking the time to alert the patient personally demonstrates that you understand the challenges they face. Providing relevant reading material in your office including information about hearing loss support groups will let patients know they are not alone in their struggles.
- Supply a written summary of the visit. Your patients may be missing important details of their care but are too embarrassed to ask for a repeat. Include test results, what they mean and your recommendations for communication solutions. Providing this information in written form will make it easier for patients to share it with their families and to refer back to it if questions arise.
- Set realistic expectations. Everyone wants hearing aids to work like glasses– you put them on and suddenly your hearing is restored — but this is not the case. Explain the work that will be required from both the patient and the audiologist to get things working smoothly. This will help offset frustration if the first settings need to be fine-tuned.
- Embrace creativity. Hearing aids work well in many situations, but not all. Combining hearing aids with assistive listening devices will give your patients a broader toolkit they can access in problematic situations. In some case, hearing aids may not be the best first step in a person’s hearing loss journey. If you suggest creative over-the-counter solutions, they will be back when additional help is needed.
- Teach communication tips and tricks. Communication best practices like keeping your lips uncovered and facing the person with hearing loss may seem obvious to you, but may not be to someone new to hearing loss or their family. Small changes in behavior can have a big impact in making conversations more satisfying for your patients and their communication partners. Teach them what you know at that first appointment.
- Invite the family.Family involvement will give you better insights into difficult communication situations from both sides and give you the opportunity to share best practice communication tips with everyone. Engaging the family in the creation of the treatment plan will also help build a support network where your patients need it most.
- Consider unbundling your fees. Charging for your expertise and time will help your patients understand the value you are providing in addition to the sale of a hearing aid. It may also broaden your practice’s focus to include more aural rehabilitation and others communication enhancing services.
An audiologist is the first stop for most people on their hearing loss journey. The importance of your input cannot be overstated. Setting the right tone and treating your patient as a partner in their treatment will help set them down the path to success.
We invite you to read a previous blog post by Shari, titled ‘Proper hearing loss language may drive better outcomes’ which talks about the importance of person-centered language in hearing healthcare.
About the Author: Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. You can connect with Shari via Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter