As audiologists and hearing aid specialists, we are all in the communication business. It’s our job to help our patients communicate better.
It’s only natural, then, that there will be times and situations in the practice of our profession that we are called upon to make an extra effort to communicate effectively with the people who come to us for help. In these cases we need to draw upon all our communication skills. Let’s consider several such situations.
PATIENTS WITH PROBLEM EARS
Occasionally we see patients with truly “ugly” ears. They may be infected, there may be an abrasion in the ear, or they may be exuding foul-smelling “gunk.” In cases like these, we are dealing with problems of significant magnitude. That makes it essential for us to establish excellent communication not only with the patient, but also with the patient’s family and with their physician. We also have to make sure our records fully and accurately describe the patient’s condition.
When I see a patient like this, I make sure a medical appointment is made, and I write some notes for the MD (on my practice’s letterhead). I also note in the patient’s chart, “Needs to see MD. Made appointment with Dr. Jones” and I make sure the family understands the problem and the need for referral. I put a re-check note on my desk and I later check to see that the patient kept the appointment.
TEACHING TELEPHONE STRATEGIES
Another type of situation that places a premium on good communication occurs when we teach patients how to use their hearing aid in specific situations, such as on the telephone. The habit of putting a telephone on your ear is almost impossible to break. Yet, many hard-of-hearing people cannot use their hearing aids if they do that. Their substantial hearing loss prevents them from hearing voices on the phone, and when you add earmolds to the ear (for a BTE fitting), you have, in effect, applied “noise plugs” to the ear. As a result, the patient has no chance at all of hearing on the phone when they place it directly on the ear.
What you need to teach patients to solve this problem is to hold the telephone near the hearing aid. In the case of a BTE instrument, have them move the telephone upward so it is actually touching the hearing instrument. Unfortunately, many patients have trouble remembering to do this, so you need to use your “enhanced” communication skills to help them establish a new habit.
I use a “Telephone card” that I give to all patients who need it. It says: Turn the telephone switch to “T.” Increase the volume (if needed). Hold the telephone against the hearing aid, not the ear.” When I do rechecks, I ask patients how they are hearing. If they are having difficulties with the telephone, I practice with them and give them another card.
SPECIAL ATTENTION FOR WAXY EARS
A few patients have excessive amounts of wax in their ear canals. They need special attention because the wax will significantly increase the incidence of hearing aid malfunctions unless we get it out.
Schedule patients like these for checkups every three months, and keep track of the people on this list. If their ears are kept clear, the number of repairs drops markedly. These people need reminder notes and reminder phone calls to make sure they keep appointments.
LEARN THE REPAIR SHOP LINGO
Here’s one last idea to improve your ability to communicate. We all have a list of people at the hearing aid and earmold companies that we contact when we need help.
Ask your favorite contacts to tell you what words to put on repair orders, etc. If you keep experiencing the same problem, e.g., the aid goes dead, you may be dealing with a different problem than you thought. Manufacturers speak their own language, so it helps you to learn the “buzz words” that factory repair departments use.