Gabrielle Saunders, Associate Director at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research in Oregon, US
Was that uncomfortable or what?
Involving patients and family members in a conversation about hearing aid outcome can lead to the sharing of divergent views. Are you comfortable handling this?
If you’ve ever ventured into ‘Family-Centered Adult Audiologic Care’ you’ve probably encountered that awkward situation in which your patient and his/her family member have very different impressions about how things are going with the rehabilitation and amplification you’ve provided. One person is thrilled, the other disappointed – and it can go both ways. Sometimes the patient will say their hearing aids are working wonders but their family is frustrated and disappointed, or conversely, the family is experiencing a vast improvement in the quality of communication, but the patient says the hearing aids are of little or no benefit.
One’s first reaction might be ‘ugghh, this is uncomfortable….’ But think about this, differing opinions don’t have to indicate a problem. After all, we go through life encountering people who think differently to us and typically we can navigate matters just fine. So, instead of feeling uncomfortable, think of these divergent views as providing an opportunity for discussion, during which you can help the patient and his/her family reach a shared understanding about communication and amplification. Such discussions will also, hopefully, prevent conflict and frustration among all parties down the line.
There are some very valid reasons that patients and their family might perceive different hearing aid outcomes. For example, the family may not be aware of the ‘invisible’ benefits the patient is getting from the hearing aids, such as feeling more energetic, and less anxious and tired. Likewise, a contented patient may not be aware that the family is still being impacted by the hearing loss (this is often referred to as ‘third party disability’). By having patients and family members openly share their perspectives in a safe and supportive environment, perceptions will likely change. Another scenario is that the patient or the family doesn’t have realistic expectations about what hearing aids can do. This will probably result in someone being disappointed with the outcome. A discussion with you can help the family understand this better. Yet another possibility is that the patient and/or family are not using effective communication skills and thus are encountering very real problems that could be improved with some communication strategies, advice and training.
You’ll no doubt encounter many other scenarios in which patients and the family have incongruent views. Make sure to be open to having these conversations so that your knowledge and expertise can have positive impacts on the lives of your patients and their families.