For hearing care professionals, how your clinic looks and feels will set the tone for the rest of the patient experience.

By Shari Eberts

Case study: Is your clinic hearing loss friendly?

Jill’s tinnitus was flaring up, and she wanted a professional opinion. She had read that tinnitus was often associated with hearing loss, so she made an appointment with a local audiologist. She arrived early to check in, and the trouble started immediately.

Upon entering the clinic, Jill encountered a receptionist engrossed in her computer. The receptionist mumbled something without looking up, leaving Jill unable to understand. She leaned in, trying to grasp the words, but remained unsure of what was expected of her. Disappointed, Jill had anticipated a hearing care clinic to be more considerate of those with communication challenges.

During the checkout process, Jill experienced more of the same. She felt embarrassed, exhausted, and disrespected. Jill left the provider’s office and never returned.

Why is a hearing-loss-friendly office important?

Hearing care professionals often overlook this aspect of person-centered care, but it is the first thing patients will experience and notice. When your clinic is hearing-loss friendly, your patients feel respected and understood. It demonstrates that you empathize with their communication challenges and are taking steps to alleviate them.

A hearing-friendly clinic also highlights your breadth of knowledge about assistive listening devices and other communication workarounds. It is essential to setting a positive tone for the appointment.

Ways to help your patients feel welcome

It often takes patients 7-10 years to find their way to an audiologist’s office. Don’t scare them away on the first visit! Making them feel welcome is the first step to creating a strong patient/provider relationship.

It starts with the appointment

Using the phone is challenging for many people with hearing loss. Ensure your receptionist speaks slowly and articulates words clearly, particularly on the phone. Even better, allow patients to make or confirm appointments via email or an online system.

Ensure your clinic is quiet and well lit

Background noise is uncomfortable for some people with hearing loss and makes it harder for them to hear. Use carpet or other sound-absorbing materials to minimize sound. Having a well-lit clinic can help those who rely on lipreading for communication.

Share relevant literature in your waiting room

Provide information and brochures from local hearing loss support groups and recommend that your patients try one. Subscribe to relevant magazines like Hearing Life, published by Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing loss-relevant magazines will help your patients see they are not alone in this new journey.

Use hearing-friendly office procedures

Even in a small clinic, patients may have difficulty hearing when their name is called. Let them know you will tap them on the arm when it is their turn and to relax while waiting. Make sure captions are used for telehealth appointments, and consider using transparent masks for in-person visits. If your clinic has a TV in the waiting room, ensure the captions are turned on!

Supply a written summary of the visit

When giving verbal instructions, your patients may miss important healthcare details and be too embarrassed to ask you to repeat them. Include test results, meanings, and a list of recommended action items in writing at each appointment. A simple checklist keeps the message clear and takes little time to complete. Patients can share this document with their families to keep them involved in their care and refer to it if they have questions after the appointment.

Feature your favorite assistive listening devices in your waiting area

Many patients have trouble watching TV and speaking on the phone. Highlighting solutions (both branded and over-the-counter) in your waiting area provides value-added care. Your clinic is an integral part of your brand identity and is your patient’s first impression of your clinic; make sure it represents your commitment to person-centered care.

Make the checkout process at the reception desk stress-free

The final touch point with your patient is often the reception desk. Make sure the check-out process goes smoothly by providing hearing assistance through a hearing loop or a pocket talker device when needed. Present all financial details in writing so the patient can review them clearly.

Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker, founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her award-winning book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss (co-authored with Gael Hannan), is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that sharing her story will help others live more peacefully with their hearing issues.