The Patient is the North Star: The Importance of a Level Playing Field

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
June 7, 2016

Last week’s post described people with hearing loss who compensate by dominating conversation. Today’s post considers silence on the part of those with hearing loss who come to our practices for hearing help.

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.  Fran Lebowitz

Silence is argument carried out by other means. Che Guevara


 The Patient is the North Star


We practitioners need to keep the needs of our patients front and foremost. This is challenging because our training and experience give us a natural tendency to jump ahead of the patient by leap-frogging from their diagnostic findings to treatment options.  We find ourselves talking (a lot) about treatments before patients gain any understanding of the test findings, much less their implications.

Patients find themselves unable to get a word in edgewise, much less express specific wants and expectations.  Confusion reigns and patient are likely to leave dissatisfied, even if they accept treatment recommendations. When this happens, we have lost our way and need to check our compass.

All paths in audiology practices need to lead to patients, who sit at the North Star of our compasses   Without them, we have no practices.  We have to constantly guard against detours where we fall back on the assumption that we have all the answers and the patients are passive listeners.  Before we give the answers, we need to stop talking and assuming and give patients full opportunity to state goals, ask questions, consider and understand the findings, their situations, and the recommendations.


The Level Playing Field


Patients are the focus of what we do, so why must practitioners check their compasses and get their bearings so often?  Ironically, the answer lies in patients being purposefully quiet and subservient to the provider. To quote Elizabeth Cohen, CNN senior medical correspondent and author of The Empowered Patient,

 “There are all sorts of reasons we default to being quiet. It is general etiquette not to correct another adult, especially when this is their profession. But when the consequences are so grave, you have to summon up your courage.”

Grave consequences? Yes.  This site blogs on the importance of good hearing in maintaining health, social connections, quality of life, while warding off serious depression and isolation. It’s important for patients to assume a position of equality by speaking up — asking questions, stating what they want and what they don’t want, making sure they understand what is transpiring and what is recommended.

In a culture of equality, patients are empowered and providers are receptive.  This is the new etiquette for the equality culture.  Providers do their best work for patients and patients optimize their hearing health in ways that make sense to them.

Photo courtesy of Penn Nursing Science

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