Throughout my lifetime, like most people, I’ve received care from a variety of medical professionals – doctors, nurses, dentists who would refer to me as their patient and I wouldn’t argue with that.
But I have a different approach to other service providers such as my optometrist and my audiologist. In a recent and beautifully written article for HearingHealthMatters.org, audiologist Paul U. Teie made the case for using the term patient to describe the people he works with, whereas I think of myself as a client to my dispensing audiologist.
What’s the big deal? Does it matter what our health service providers call us? When compared to the greater issues we face on the planet today, probably not. But the difference, for me, depends on what sort of relationship I have with the service provider and how much input I have in the course of care or treatment.
Consider the following descriptions from a supplement written for the Canadian Hearing Review (2012) by my friend, audiologist Jo Deluzio, called, Me & My Audie: The Important Client-Professional Relationship.
– A patient is a recipient of health care services. Patient has Latin and Greek roots, and means ‘one who suffers’. In the medical model, the patient is prescribed (advised, authorized) a course of care. The medical model views hearing loss as an affliction that needs to be fixed. Progress is measured in relation to typically hearing people with “normalcy” being the goal. The medical model uses terms like hearing impairment, inadequate cochlear function, communication disorder, etc.
– A customer is a person that purchases goods or services from another person or company, implies a short-term, primarily economic relationship. Customers make a one-time purchase simply a certain vendor or provider has what they need.
– A client purchases goods or services from another person or company, placing themselves under their protection for professional advice and knowledge. The potential exists for long-term, protective, loyal, and ongoing relationship.
Jo and I went on to say:
We believe part of the answer lies in re-branding of the role of the effective hearing healthcare professionals. Hearing care professionals (HCPs) must view their client as someone who needs help in managing their life around hearing loss. This professional support goes beyond technology to working with the client to develop life skills that allow the person to communicate well and to live well, despite the presence of permanent sensory loss. With an HCP who adopts this philosophy, the client will learn the big picture of hearing loss – what is possible and what needs to be done – and their role in achieving communication success.
From the first meeting – the client with hearing loss and the HCP who is there to serve – a collaborative partnership must form which will result in powerful benefits to both the consumer and the hearing health professional. In the team approach, both partners have clearly defined roles and they share the responsibility for success. Otherwise, audiologists will continue to struggle with clients who balk at every suggestion, and hard of hearing clients who, if they are not exposed to additional communication strategies beyond their hearing aids, will not develop the best possible skills to cope with their hearing difficulties.
This philosophy is known as client-centered care or person-centered care. The venerable Ida Institute in Copenhagen is an independent, non-profit organization working to integrate person-centered care in hearing rehabilitation. The Ida Institute also uses the term clients in discussing the relationship with their hearing care professionals.
Since the day I realized that I was the one in charge of living well with my hearing loss, my relationship with my audiologists has improved. I no longer put full responsibility on them to make things better for me, because when I did, I would become frustrated and even angry when miracles didn’t happen.
My hearing care specialists have knowledge, experience and even a perspective that I need. But I must meet them halfway in developing a realistic strategic plan for my life with hearing loss.
Do names matter? I think they do. But although I prefer the term client, I don’t twist myself out of shape if another term is used. Just as I prefer to say that I’m a person with hearing loss, if someone else calls themselves hearing-impaired, that’s their right. The important thing is that we step up and do what’s necessary to live as successfully as possible with our hearing loss.
Photo: Jo and I discussing hearing loss over a glass (or two) of wine.