During a 3-day period at the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in San Diego, 170 physicians, nurses, and medical educators were given threshold hearing screenings using the Washington-based Better Hearing Institute’s new teaching audiogram form

The hearing health professionals performing the screenings were audiologists Dena Riso, AuD and Dr Julie-Khoury Ghaffary (Sonus); and hearing instrument specialists Elaine Boulware (Sonus), Collette Forshan (Sonus), Eileen Aguila (Miracle Ear), and Angeline Medawar (Miracle Ear).

Some 400 earplugs were distributed (with the message: screen your patients), along with 150 physician education packets consisting of the BHI booklet titled Your Guide to Better Hearing, two reprints of JAMA articles on the physician’s role in hearing loss screening, the NCOA study on hearing aids and quality of life, and a pad of the BHIs Quick Hearing Checks for use in their practice.

The BHI used the earplugs as a teaching tool, asking participants to attend a lecture or run their practice with the earplugs in their ears. The consequent 30 dB sound reduction clinically would amount to a "mild" hearing loss. The message was that, even with this so-called "mild" loss, they would find it quite difficult if not impossible to function. A number of physicians indicated they would use this sensitization method with their residents in training. The group also demonstrated how in their practice they could use a hand-held hearing screener.

In conversation with dozens of physicians at AAFP, only a minority currently perform hearing screenings during physical exams, the BHI says. Most physicians said they would need a financial incentive to be motivated to perform hearing screenings.

This is an area that needs to be investigated further if the hearing health professional is ever to enjoy a greater rate of referrals from physicians, the organization says. In discussions with colleagues at AAFP, the group found there are divergent opinions on the ability of physicians to receive reimbursement for hearing screenings, which is an important topic BHI will research and report on in the future.