Bridging the Gap Between What Patients “Need” and What They “Want”

Bob Martin
October 7, 2014

How many times have you told a patient what hearing aid they need, only to be told, “Well, that’s fine, but I want the other one.”

At times there is a substantial difference between the hearing aid system that would work best for patients and the system that they want. Some hearing aids have the potential to be modified into different configurations, but others don’t.

Regardless of how often we tell ourselves that we are the professionals and our opinion is what counts, the reality of the situation is that we are in a “customer pleasing” business. This can be difficult when the patient is not interested in our point of view.

I have a friend in this field who tells me, “Bob, you spend your time and energy swimming upstream. Stop fighting the current. Don’t let your education and personal background get in the way. Give your patients what they want.”

There is no doubt that it would be much easier to listen to the patient, briefly give them my opinion, and then let them make a quick decision. But that is not what I do. Why not? Because I believe my best chance for a long-term relationship with a patient is to help get them into the system that is best for them.

A few times I have given patients CIC hearing aids—even though I did not recommend them–only to have them come back a year later asking me, “Why did you sell me these hearing aids if you knew they weren’t going to work?”

So what are we to do?


Years ago I worked with a man named Jack. He had a severe hearing loss and a unique “bedside manner”; he was brutally honest. He would say things to patients like, “You don’t want to worry about being pretty; you are already beautiful. You want to get these big ugly hearing aids. They work better.”

When I first started working with Jack, his blunt approach scared me. I thought patients would hate him. But, to my surprise, they liked his honesty, his straightforwardness. He didn’t play games and he always spoke his mind. And it worked. People listened to him respected his point of view.

Luckily for us we no longer have to choose between big and ugly instruments that people don’t like and discreet little ones that won’t give some patients the hearing help they need. Today, even high-power hearing aids come in tiny cases.

But the amount of time we spend interacting with patients is increasing because hearing aids can do more, solve more problems. So the quest to find the balance between what patients “want” and what they “need” continues.

In an ideal world we would have all our patients watch three or four videos in which attractive hearing aid wearers talk about all the features on their instruments. That way patients would receive some basic education about hearing aids before making the “buying” decision. But since that’s probably not an option for most of us, we need to work hard to convince patients to want the hearing aid they need.

  1. In the last four years of my practice in Oshkosh, WI when I was actively working to loop my community I could count the number of patients who purchased hearing instruments without telecoils on one hand. Our clients want to hear, everywhere. And by explaining and demonstrating what this marginally larger instrument will do for them (i.e. Allow them to hear well – and sometimes even better than the normal hearing person sitting beside them – in places that offer assistive technology with neck loops or in venues with hearing loops) nearly all will opt for the T-coil equipped instruments

    I posed the same question on a recent internet survey which results were recently published in the Hearing Review 96+% (234 out of the 24) of the respondents indicated they would NEVER give up the telecoil even if it meant wearing a slightly more visible instrument.

    Demonstrating is key and a hearing loop in the waiting room is priceless in this process.

  2. A small error slipped in my previous comment:

    234 out of 243 of the respondents to a recent survey would NEVER opt for a smaller instrument if it meant giving up the telecoil.

  3. It never ceases to surprise me how many users are not really aware of the advantages of the tele coil built in to their modern aid. Most users look bemused at me “what’s that”. I normally deal with the elderly N H type and whilst many have heard of loop systems they are totally uneducated re how to use it. I am not aware of one single hospital audiologists with the necessary equipment to enable a patient to test this, not even a working phone with in built facility. Most places of worship have a loop system in use and the same for cinemas. I wonder is this one aspect covered by private suppliers to a greater degree than the N H.
    I am a volunteer with Action on hearing loss and my Clients are the house bound elderly, nursing homes,sheltered dwellings and the like. Up to recent there has been no service at all to this section of the hard of hearing community. No matter how old or how infirm they are they have to get themselves to the necessary hospital department. Think about it!

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