Patient Care | April 2023 Hearing Review

Every client’s hearing loss story and experience is unique, making patient-centered care key to moving forward as a team.

By Shari Eberts

Inside the Hearing Loss Journey is our newest section and it will delve into the lived hearing loss experience, while providing care tips to audiology professionals from the patient perspective.

I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid-20s, but my journey began as a child, watching my father struggle with his hearing. He was highly stigmatized by his hearing aids and would do anything to avoid mentioning them. This made it difficult for our family to support him when communication challenges arose. Over time, he became increasingly detached and alone.

When my hearing issues began in business school, I was terrified. Would I soon also be isolated from the people and activities I loved? The first audiologist I visited told me that my hearing loss was too mild to treat, sending me back to class with no new skills or communication strategies. This gave me the perfect excuse to ignore and hide my hearing loss, which I did for many years, following in my father’s footsteps of stigma and shame.

But once I had children, everything changed. I saw them watching me do the same things my father had done—isolating myself out of fear of mishearing something and laughing at jokes I hadn’t heard. Because my hearing loss is genetic, I knew I needed to set a better example. So, I did. I began wearing my hearing aids all the time and educating others on how they could help me hear my best. I refused to let my hearing loss isolate me. And now I advocate for people like me.

No two journeys are alike

My hearing loss story is unique. It is like no other. And every client has their own. Clients arrive at your office with baggage. They might struggle at work because of their hearing loss or have trouble at home because communication challenges hurt an important relationship. Sometimes employers and families are supportive. Other times they are not.

Many consumers battle stigma, fearful that hearing aids will make them look old or out of touch. Some are excited about using hearing aid technology to help them stay engaged with life. They have high hopes and even higher expectations, like thinking that hearing aids work like glasses.

Each client brings their own personality, history, and personal circumstances with them to every appointment. The best providers will meet us where we are on our journey so that we can move forward together. This is the promise of person-centered care.

Partner with your patient for optimal results

Person-centered care requires that you partner with your patient, but how do you do this? Here are some ideas.

1. Ask them questions and listen to the answers.

Open-ended questions will help you learn more about their hopes and fears as well as the reasons they are seeking your care. Maintaining eye-contact and nodding will help them know you are listening. Paraphrase their responses to make sure you are understanding their true meaning.

2. Try to read between the lines.

When they say their family and friends do nothing to help them, they are expressing anger and frustration. Acknowledge these emotions and suggest actions that can help them to manage them. For example, inviting their family to an appointment focused on communication best practices could help them create better understanding where they need it most.

3. Show empathy for their struggles.

Don’t worry about having the exact right thing to say. Listening and asking follow-up questions are all that is required. Kindness goes a long way towards building trust in the relationship and will encourage them to be open and honest in their responses.

4. Share your expertise and respect theirs.

You are the expert in hearing science and communication tools. Your clients are the expert in their lived experiences. Include both in the treatment plan for optimal results. Share your knowledge in the way that best supports your client. Some will want all the analytical details while others will prefer to focus on the action plan.

No two journeys are alike. No two treatment plans should be either. With person-centered care, the client and provider work together to build a personalized roadmap for a successful journey.