In a recent talk to a group of hearing care providers, I took an informal poll, asking what were some of the most discouraging things their patients had reported being told by their physician regarding their hearing.
I knew what the results would be, having heard very disappointing things from scores of patients myself, over the years. Still, seeing all in one place the litany of poorly informed and downright ignorant statements from otherwise knowledgeable and trusted medical professionals was very disappointing.
Your hearing is too far gone / Your hearing is normal for your age / Bring someone with you that can hear / Hearing aids don’t help / Hearing aids can’t help tinnitus / You don’t need hearing aids / You have no NEED for hearing aids / Hearing aid wouldn’t help you (to a patient with great word recognition) / You don’t need hearing aids / Hearing aids won’t work for you / Hearing aids won’t help / HAs won’t help / Hearing aids don’t help / Hearing aids are too expensive / You can still wait / Just get one / You really do not need a hearing aid. / Hearing aids don’t work / You don’t need aids yet / You’re too old to do anything for your hearing / Hearing aids are useless / Hearing aids damage your hearing. / There is no treatment for your hearing loss / There is no need for hearing aids / You don’t need Hearing aids. / You are just getting old. / Hearing aids won’t help you / Start out with one / You hear me fine / You have an unaidable hearing loss / You just have 85 yr old hearing / Hearing aids are a waste of money
Whew! Pretty discouraging, right?
I’m a little depressed just putting that list together. I don’t know if a study has ever been done, but it seems clear to me that discouragement and poor advice from physicians must be responsible for a fair share of the abysmal record of our industry vis-à-vis hearing aid acceptance.
To paraphrase a favorite adage – never attribute to malice that which can more easily be explained by ignorance. Medical doctors truly believe they are offering their patients sound medical advice when they say such things. They are blissfully unaware that the effect is that they are preventing their patients from recovering the most precious thing of which their hearing loss has deprived them – connection with the people around them.
Physicians simply do not know what they are doing when they rely on outdated information and poorly informed opinions that have the effect of discouraging their patients from seeking out hearing help so essential to them and the people they love.
Though I have seldom known a physician to admit to being ignorant of anything (at least having to do with the human body), or to stoop to taking counsel from anyone not having an MD after their name, I do believe that, as the keepers of knowledge of hearing (if not ears), it is incumbent upon hearing professionals to do what we can to relieve our errant colleagues of their ignorance. We can complain about it all we want, but that does little to help our patients improve their lives through better hearing.
What is our part in the problem?
We have clearly done a poor job as an industry and as a profession in educating physicians regarding the value of hearing instruments. What can I do about that? I can talk to my physician.
Heck, I can talk to any physician I happen to run into. I might tell them how much better hearing aids are today than they were some years ago. I might tell them what great service I provide. But I will be certain to tell them how hearing instruments have improved the lives of my patients:
- About the widowed mother who was able to fully participate in her only son’s wedding
- About the adult child who was able to communicate deeply and fully with their dying parent in their final days
- About the grandparent who was finally able to understand his small grandchildren
- About the depressed patient whose eyes lit up during his hearing aid fitting when he was able to clearly hear his daughter’s voice.
We might want to talk to them about what hearing aids do, but most importantly about what they do for our patients. All we can do is chip away at our little corners of the world.
Be it one-on-one with our internist or at a lunch and learn in a primary care office, the messages that will resonate are our patients’ success stories. That is what MDs who minimize what we have to offer are missing.
Paul U. Teie, MS, has been an audiologist since 1991. He has spent much of his career in direct clinical care but has filled other roles in the hearing care industry as sales representative of a special instrument dealer and a hearing instrument manufacturer. Since 2007 he has provided sales and clinical training for large hearing care networks and currently trains for HearUSA/HearCanada