By Garrett Thompson

“The Young and the RIC-less: Musings from a Millennial Audiologist” is a new quarterly column by Garrett Thompson.

 

Garrett Thompson

How can we use empathy to improve the UX of the patient, and why are young audiologists the perfect group to champion this change? From smartphone apps to Gmail to the iPhone itself, young AuDs grew up with products that were specifically designed with intuitive UX in mind; we see it as a given that products are easy to use. When is the last time you had to read the instruction manual of the app you just downloaded? (Trick question: it doesn’t have one, because it doesn’t need one.)

Watching a toddler effortlessly use an iPad is seeing good UX in motion. Intricately analyzing the consumer experience, their wants and needs, and evolving one’s offerings to meet those needs is critical in this process1. Audiologists must do that now, especially with the younger generation of Baby Boomers who will use our products and services in drastically different ways.

I am amazed, for example, by what we expect of our patients who are still in the workforce. In my life, with an 8am-4pm externship schedule, it is very inconvenient to go to even one doctor’s appointment. But to fit hearing aids on the much-heralded, working-age, mild-to-moderate hearing loss patient, she has to take time off for (on average) three appointments over the span of six weeks?

 

We need to be empathetic in how we design this experience and consider it from the working-age patient’s perspective. We should analyze her interaction with this system, and personalize the treatment plan based on her needs and wants. We know personalization increases consumer satisfaction2; it also shows compassion.

 

Compassion is at the core of patient-centered care, and being cognizant of the value of someone’s time is paramount. I believe the reason Costco is the fastest growing segment of the hearing aid market is simple: it’s less expensive and it’s open seven days a week. People like convenience. This is consistent with a trend across healthcare, as we see an increasing popularity of decentralized, accessible options such as urgent care centers, pharmacy “minute clinics”, and telemedicine apps3.

Private practice audiology can heed this trend and improve convenience by offering after-work or weekend hours. We should also embrace telehealth and remote programming as a means for follow-up services when physical alteration of the devices is not required. Given the efficiency of telehealth, you could see several working-age patients during their lunch break, without them ever leaving the office!

By customizing a treatment plan with these services, patients will recognize your compassion and superior UX; and it will break down a major barrier for working-age Boomers with hearing difficulties.

 

Breaking Down Barriers to Hearing Care

 

We need to systematically examine the process with which a person moves from initial onset of hearing difficulty to acquisition of any amplification device, and finally to hearing aid use (or non-acquisition).

 

  • What steps do they take in doing personal research, either online or through word of mouth?
  • What medical professionals do they interface with before we see them?
  • Which forces encourage them to seek intervention; which serve as roadblocks?
  • What does the average Baby Boomer think of audiologists, do they know what we do?
  • What sources are they listening to, who do they trust?

 

The best way to find the answers to these questions is straight from the source, by asking our patients. Getting involved with community events or HLAA advocacy groups provides invaluable information. For example, at my alma mater (City University of New York) students recently held a collaborative event with the local HLAA chapter.

 

In the words of the CUNY SAA president Kathleen Wallace, “Patients so clearly know what they want, and what they would like from audiologists. It was really productive to hear directly from so many patients and advocates all in one room.”

 

When asked what priorities were articulated she said, “They wish audiologists counseled more on T-coil and looping, as well as strategies for self-management of hearing loss like aural rehabilitation. Another focus was how audiologists can attend to the emotional component of living with hearing loss, and when to refer when we cannot.”

Understanding how patients experience hearing loss, what they want from audiologists, and what information they consume before we ever see them is crucial. In my experience, patients are quite influenced by Consumer Reports, online hearing aid forums, and the opinion of their PCP or ENT. We should focus on getting our message to these influencers, as they are often responsible for changing social behavior on a large scale4. Most importantly, we need to stay positive in these tumultuous times.

We need to reflect on our process and self-improve. We need to replace this statement:

 

“Face it, people don’t want hearing aids.”

With this:

“How many ways can we improve the User Experience of hearing aids so people love them?”

 

References

    1. Christensen, Clayton. The innovator’s dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.
    2. Shankar, Venkatesh, Amy K. Smith, and Arvind Rangaswamy. “Customer satisfaction and loyalty in online and offline environments.” International journal of research in marketing 20.2 (2003): 153-175.
    3. Yee, Tracy, et al. “The surge in urgent care centers: emergency department alternative or costly convenience.” Center for Studying Health System Change. Washington, DC (2013).
    4. Gladwell, Malcolm. The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Little, Brown, 2006.

 

Garrett Thompson is an audiology student at the City University of New York and is currently completing his externship at the Callier Center of UT-Dallas. He was a national finalist in the 2015 Academy of Doctors of Audiology student business plan competition. His writing has previously been featured in Audiology Today and Audiology Practices. Thompson received a BA in Economics from Boston College. Contact him at gthompson@gradcenter.cuny.edu or @Dr_Audball

Featured image courtesy ec4ublog

Editor’s Note: It is my pleasure to introduce a new quarterly column to HHTM. It is one geared toward our younger readers – those newly minted audiologists and hearing instrument specialists with a fresh perspective that all our readers can appreciate. Young clinicians, graduate students and other millennials who have grown up with technology and can seamlessly navigate new hearing aid software without calling the Technical Support hotline or effortlessly upload a YouTube video without consulting their kids. To be sure, the voice of the older, experienced generation is not a bad thing. After all, they have lived long enough to remember when clinicians actually conducted Bekesy audiometry and used a mini-screwdriver to make adjustments on hearing aids. This experience and longevity provides our readers with a valuable perspective, especially in these interesting times.

On the other hand, as we move into an era defined by disruption, it benefits all of us to hear from those who have been exposed to technological innovations since childhood. Garrett Thompson, an audiology student at the City University of New York, who happens to have a Bachelor’s in Economics, is one such person. Here’s to Garrett’s first quarterly column, adroitly called The Young and the RIC-less: Musings from a Millennial Audiologist. I hope you find his thoughts stimulating.

Brian Taylor, AuD

 

 

By Garrett Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

“Face it, people don’t want hearing aids.”

If you’ve heard this sentiment before, you’re not alone.

 

 

UX is a shorthand term used in Silicon Valley design circles, meaning User Experience. It’s a simple phrase, but it encompasses much of the ethos of the startup culture. The focus is on designing elegant products that consumers love to use. A product with excellent UX is intuitive, satisfying, and solves a specific problem that the consumer faces. Another way to look at this is to design a product or service with the consumer’s perspective in mind, to use empathy and compassion to see the problem from their point of view. In other words, give the consumer what she wants1. In my young career, I have heard many audiologists and reps say that the product we deliver to patients is something they do not want. I find this statement nauseating. At best it feels like self-deprecating humor, and at worse it feels like self-loathing. Also, it seems to me that it is not true.

If you ask a patient if he wants to understand his friends at dinner, or hear his granddaughter’s whisper in his ear, the answer will be yes. This is, in reality, what we are delivering to patients, and they want it bad. Admittedly hearing aids are not the sexiest tech product around, and I don’t think we should pretend they are. But they can do some pretty cool stuff!

 

If we ditch the negative attitude and use empathy to drastically improve the UX of hearing aid acquisition and usage, we can increase hearing aid uptake and lower the age of first time use. I believe the new generation of AuDs is particularly suited for this task.

 

There has been much trumpeting of factors explaining the low uptake of hearing aids, if you are reading this then you already know them: prohibitive cost, inadequate access, and perceived lack of benefit. As I see it, you can add another barrier to acquiring hearing aids: terrible UX.

The end-to-end experience of the patient is complicated and inconvenient, and the devices are user-unfriendly. As a patient, first you must find a competent professional, be thoroughly tested, and appropriately fit and verified. This process is time-consuming and cumbersome, especially for a Baby Boomer who is still working. Once you have the devices, you get the pleasure of manipulating tiny batteries weekly and infinitesimal wax guards when you remember they need to be changed (you’ll forget how to change them by then). This is the fault of the designer; not only the designer of the product but the designer of the clinic’s patient care protocol, too.

 

Hearing aids have seen some improved usability in recent years, most notably direct to smartphone connectivity and rechargeable devices. The UX is still generally inconvenient and frustrating though, which not only affects satisfaction with the hearing aids and audiologist, it reduces a patient’s independence and self-efficacy.

 

You have to ask for help or come in every time you can’t troubleshoot a problem. It also adds to the public perception that hearing aids don’t work and are only for people who can’t take care of themselves. Poor UX may be an explanation for why countries with accessible and free hearing aids have similar uptake rates as the United States2.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

 

References

  1. Patnaik, Dev. Needfinding: design research and planning. Amazon CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
  2. McCormack, A., & Fortnum, H. (2013). Why do people fitted with hearing aids not wear them? International Journal of Audiology52(5), 360–368. http://doi.org/10.3109/14992027.2013.769066

 

Garrett Thompson is an audiology student at the City University of New York and is currently completing his externship at the Callier Center of UT-Dallas. He was a national finalist in the 2015 Academy of Doctors of Audiology student business plan competition. His writing has previously been featured in Audiology Today and Audiology Practices. Thompson received a BA in Economics from Boston College. Contact him at gthompson@gradcenter.cuny.edu or @Dr_Audball

 

Featured image courtesy ec4ublog