Much of what we do with our customer is education. Most of our patients have little or no knowledge of hearing, hearing loss or hearing aids – it is a black box. Hearing aids are particularly mysterious. Our patients don’t know what they can and cannot do, may never have experienced them, and may not have even touched one. It is our job to bring them up to speed
Our first consideration, in all communication with our patients, is that we use patient-friendly language, without talking down to them. Overuse of professional jargon can be off-putting and confusing. Your patient may not understand what they have been told, may tune out, or even be intimidated or offended by it.
Be thorough without being overwhelming. Remember that your patient doesn’t need to know everything you know. Discuss with them what is relevant to their situation specifically by referring to the information obtained during your needs assessment.
Orient to and Explain the Audiogram
Before or after; that is the question. Is it better to describe the audiogram to the patient before the hearing test or after? I would say that before is better for several reasons:
- It prepares the patient for counseling that will commence immediately after the hearing test.
- It streamlines counseling after the hearing test.
- It allows the opportunity to briefly discuss the consequences of untreated hearing loss.
I orient my patients to the audiogram in terms that suggest that the entire range of hearing is in play for amplification. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I want to avoid using the words “normal” or even “mild” with patients. These are words our patients will latch onto like bees to honey. After all, they don’t want to have a hearing loss at all. When told even a portion of their hearing is “normal” or “mild”, that may be all they hear.
The other reason is that, with the sophisticated signal processing available in today’s hearing aids, hearing losses that were at one time difficult or even impossible to fit are now within reach of most current hearing aids. This includes audiograms that are audiometrically “within normal limits”.
There is a certain set of customer who may benefit from amplification despite thresholds that would conventionally be termed “normal” or near-normal. They may be in occupations where being able to understand is particularly critical such as attorney, doctor, psychologist, teacher, among others. Or they may be individuals who formerly enjoyed particularly fine hearing but whose hearing sensitivity has decreased, though it still lies “within normal limits”. With older technology, these patients may not have been considered candidates for hearing aids. But with current technology, amplification may be appropriate and beneficial.
Please be clear that I do not advocate that hearing aids are appropriate for everyone with WNL thresholds. But if they happen to have thresholds conventionally characterized as WNL and are experiencing difficulty, I can help them.
When your customer has been oriented to the audiogram before the hearing test, they will already have a good idea of what they are seeing when shown their audiogram after the hearing test.
Since the hearing test, by its nature, tends to dissipate any emotional energy generated during the needs assessment, the audiogram review is an excellent opportunity to recover some of that energy. This can be done by reinforcing situations identified earlier. For example,
- “Did you have any idea your hearing had deteriorated to this degree?” Or
- “This is why you have been having so much trouble understanding your grandson.” (or whatever other difficulty was identified in the needs assessment).
It is important to directly relate your patient’s hearing loss to specific situations they have identified as being a challenge. This creates urgency in finding a solution and reminds your customer of the emotion these situations have produced.
Discuss Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss
Perhaps the most important topic about which we educate our patients is the consequences of untreated hearing loss.
There is a long list of conditions that have been associated with hearing loss, including reduced quality-of-life, such as depression, loneliness and social isolation, auditory deprivation, accelerated cognitive decline, early death, increased falls, increased hospitalization, reduction in brain mass, and many more. Numerous studies have shown that hearing loss is correlated with all these conditions. Moreover, there is evidence that hearing aids can slow the progression or diminish the impact of at least three of these consequences: quality-of-life, auditory deprivation and accelerated cognitive decline.
The most important element of the message to your patients regarding the consequences of untreated hearing loss is this: Hearing aids help!!
For this reason, I briefly outline the consequences of untreated hearing loss, including the message that hearing aids help, to every adult patient, regardless of age or hearing loss. Even when my patient is young and enjoys “normal” hearing, this may not be the case forever. If they begin to experience hearing loss, they may recall the conversation they had with you about these consequences and the hope conveyed by your message that hearing aids help. This recollection may convince them to seek out help with their hearing sooner than they would have otherwise. The purpose of this discussion of untreated hearing loss is not to scare our patient, rather it is a message of hope. It is education, not a sales tactic.
Another important element of education is the hearing aid demonstration. This gives your customer the experience of wearing hearing instruments to dispel some of the mystery surrounding them and, more importantly, to demonstrate how they can benefit from their use.
Knowledge is power! By educating our patients regarding their audiogram and how it relates to the difficulties they are experiencing daily, the consequences of untreated hearing loss and that “hearing aids help”, and the hearing aid demo to experience the benefit of hearing aids, we empower our patients with the information they need to change their lives through better hearing.