While affordability is a persistent problem for a sizable portion of the population, financing remains a viable solution simply because it helps. With three decades of industry experience, Brian Taylor, AuD, Director of Clinical Content Development at Signia, one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers, has seen the results firsthand.
While financing is increasingly making an impact, too many consumers are still unaware of the many ill effects of poor hearing. Hearing Review sat down with Dr Taylor to get an idea of the level of knowledge within the general public, and what can be done to improve the situation.
Hearing Review: How solid is the evidence that hearing loss can lead to social isolation and dementia?
Dr Taylor: There’s always work to be done, but I think it’s solid—especially around the area of cognitive function. There are several studies that show a pretty clear relationship between hearing loss and cognition. My answer to that question is always, if you can, collect more data on these things in a systematic way. For the factor of cognition, the evidence is pretty clear that there’s a relationship between the two. You’re at much higher risk of developing dementia or other forms of cognitive decline the worse your hearing loss is. The study published about 10 years ago by Dr Frank Lin and colleagues at Johns Hopkins showed a relationship—what I would call a dose effect—meaning that the greater the hearing loss, the greater the relative risk factor of developing cognitive decline.
HR: It’s been a while, but what were you thinking when you read that study? Was it confirming what you suspected or was it surprising?
Dr Taylor: As a clinician, it was not terribly surprising. I would say it’s in alignment with what you see on a routine basis. I think the thing that was eye catching about that particular study was that it showed the greater the hearing loss, the greater the relative risk factor. I had never seen it laid out in that systematic way.
HR: How well does the general public understand the link between hearing loss and social isolation, dementia and depression?
Dr Taylor: I don’t think they understand it very well. I think a lot of it has to do with the way it’s talked about in the press. Sometimes they grab a headline and talk about the relative risk of something, and it looks like a big number. But then, when you look at the absolute risk, it’s not that exciting. You see it all the time with older people who have a certain kind of lifestyle. For example, they might increase their risk of a heart condition. But everybody that’s older is at risk, and it just adds a little more when you have some sort of an unhealthy lifestyle or chronic condition [like hearing loss] compounding it.
Going back to your question, I don’t think that the general public knows about this relationship very much, and what they do know sometimes is a little bit misleading.
HR: How do you communicate these negative connections (isolation and dementia) to people who may walk in the door?
Dr Taylor: You have to be matter-of-fact about it. Be as honest and clear as possible. Don’t engage in scare tactics. Whatever you say, you don’t want it left to interpretation. Make it clear that patients are slightly more at risk because they have a hearing loss for developing some of these other things. It’s a real skill and it’s a challenge to try to raise somebody’s awareness without having it come across as a scare tactic or a threatening situation. Especially with older folks, you just have to say everybody that’s older is at risk for dementia and depression. The older you get, the more at risk you are for a lot of different things. When you add an untreated hearing loss on top of it, it accelerates that risk a little bit more.
HR: When do you like to broach the subject of cost, affordability, and financing?
Dr Taylor: You need to have a variety of payment options available to your patients. I think it starts with your website. You need to answer patient cost questions on the website to ensure the patient has information about some of those things coming into the office.
HR: What about during a face-to-face appointment?
Dr Taylor: When it comes to a face-to-face appointment, you have to start talking about price fairly early on. More and more people these days have a third-party payer involved. A lot of Medicare Advantage programs have a hearing aid benefit. A lot of times, before a person even comes into the clinic, somebody in your office is already doing some kind of check to see if their plan covers it—and that gets the conversation started around price. The most important things are for people to know they have financing options and what they’re getting for the money.
HR: How receptive are people to financing options?
Dr Taylor: Most people take it in stride. They know that what they’re buying is more than $100. They kind of know before they come in that they are going to be allocating some funds, and they know that financing could be a possibility. They’re usually happy to hear about financing solutions.
About the author: Greg Thompson is a freelance writer and a former editor of Physical Therapy Products and other publications. He is based in Loveland, Colo.