When I Walk Into the Hearing Clinic…..

The news station on TV in the hospital waiting room wasn’t captioned.  I wasn’t terribly interested in the news as I waited for my cochlear implant surgery but still, I felt the familiar emotion:  “Oh for heaven’s sakes, how do they expect people with hearing loss to understand!”

 A little bit of access would have improved the experience. 

What about the experience for people entering hearing aid clinics?  What would make it better? 

A good start is being able to see the front office staff when we walk in.  Some sit behind big counters and we can barely see their faces let alone their smiles or lips. The counters may be great to lean on, but the staff person is forced to look up at you and then back to the computer—back and forth, back and forth—while next appointments are discussed.

Most hearing clinic waiting rooms are devoid of hearing loss information.  Does this make sense? I mean this is where we come for help, which hopefully includes information.  I’m talking about something more than manufacturer hearing aid pamphlets. How about books and articles that can ramp up a client’s knowledge of living with hearing loss? Hearing care professionals will talk to us about the shiny-shimmery technology they are recommending, but I’m talking about real life communication strategies. There’s a lot of helpful, life-changing stuff out there that clients need to know about, including local consumer hearing support groups.

The clinics often have the retail chain’s advertising posters on prominent display. These show very attractive, very happy people but I’ve looked—really closely—and I can’t see hearing aids on those beautiful peeps.  Not the slightest hint of plastic wires coming from behind a pinna. I guess the message is that this could be you!  Wear our hearing aids and no one will notice and everybody’s happy. Yes, it could be me, maybe, with some teeth-whitening dental work, a facelift and different hair. C’mon, let’s see the hearing aids.

And even before we step through the door….I dunno…maybe a little welcome humor? A sidewalk sign that says, “C’mon in – we’re “hear” for you!” That might be too much, but since the day hearing aid clinics have been allowed to be storefront and not hidden away in a medical building, the new retail chain names have upped the inspiration and positivity factor:  Hearing Connections, Hearing Solutions, Lifestyle Hearing, Hear for Life, even Hearing by Design, etc.

A point that needs to be hammered home: front office staff should be articulate and communication-savvy. I mean, everyone they greet has hearing loss, and even the best speechreading and best hearing aids can’t cut through mumbling, lack of eye contact, overly soft (or overly loud) voices, and dropped consonants. 

And I love clinics that have their client commitment and mission statement plastered on the waiting room wall.  Firstly it gives us something to look at when there’s nothing else to read besides hearing aid brochures. Secondly, it’s reassuring to know that your commitment is to providing me with quality service and the ability to communicate better. It says so, right there on the wall, so if for any reason things go a little off-track with my hearing care professional, we can hold hands and go read that waiting room wall art again.

The front desk should be looped so that people with active t-coils in their hearing aids can communicate clearly with staff.  Oh heck – loop the whole office!

Finally, a TV that shows hearing loss videos is fabulous, but for the love of Mike, make sure they are captioned!  You’d think we hear well or something!  Also, a water cooler and/or a coffee machine.  It’s a nice touch.


Photo:  A photo of a great waiting room:  Audiology Clinic, Inc.

Photo: Clip of Oticon happy people.  As an Oticon user, I’ve been this happy too, but I just don’t look like this.


Note:  Watch for my Cochlear Implant series coming soon.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Hearing loss clinics should also be accessible via email and/or text messages. Not all of us have captioned telephones.

  2. Gael, great article. I would like to add that the clinics should be mindful of leaving clear telephone messages when calling clients to inform them, for example, that their hearing aid is ready for pick up (after being repaired). I do not wear hearing aids and could not understand one word left on our telephone messaging system (which is fairly new and usually quite clear).

  3. Gael this is very valuable insight. Your experience is an example of what inspired us to launch a digital product we provide hearing health care clinics called Hearing News Network. Hearing News Network (HHN) is a patient-oriented content delivery system that streams customized hearing health content directly from Clear Digital Media right into the clinic’s waiting room in real-time via high speed internet on a flat screen television. The content is updated constantly and includes relevant video pieces (all captioned) that offer information on hearing loss, what to expect in your appointment, staff bios, edutainment, seasonal pieces, etc. We encourage clinics to contact us to better understand how important the waiting room is the patient experience. http://cleardigitalmedia.net/hearing-news-network/

  4. Gael, this is an excellent article. I think we tend to take these things for granted when we run a busy practice. Your comment about offering information about hearing loss rather than just displaying manufacturer’s brochures is well taken. My waiting room was looped and had a TV that played hearing loss information. It provides information for waiting patients and also the chance to demonstrate to newly fit patients the improvement to understand television.
    Thanks for making us aware of these important facts.

  5. I have experienced awkwardness and discomfort while waiting for my appointment to be called in clinics catering to hearing challenged patients. The staff would call or yell your name (once or repeatedly) and it is difficult to understand due to acoustics in the waiting area, clarity of the staff’s voice, and other distractions. It would be nice if they were compassionate or use pagers.

    1. Office personnel dealing with clients with hearing loss need training. Most have no idea what hearing loss is. They either speak softly or yell too loudly. Some may think we have already lost our minds.

      1. That won’t help those who need to lipread. I suggested to my local clinic that they use a simple card system. Each person is given a card with a number on it, when the clinician comes out to fetch someone, just hold up the matching card. Much less stressful for everyone. They’ve put that system in place now, I can’t believe it never occurred to them.

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