, Keeping Hearing Aids out of the Drawer

Keeping Hearing Aids out of the Drawer

The following post is a summarized version of our newest article on AudiologyOnline, "Keeping Hearing Aids out of the Drawer: Emphasizing Effective Patient Education to Improve your Practice"

Let's dive in!

Hearing aids can bring many benefits to patients with hearing loss, but if patients are not given proper and effective instruction on their appropriate use, frustration and discouragement will ensue, and the hearing aids will end up in a drawer.

As an audiologist, I am always trying to find innovative and effective ways to improve my patient’s hearing ability and efficacy with their hearing devices. I have interacted with a variety of patients in various audiological environments, including private practice, hospital units, and busy ENT clinics. I’ve observed a spectrum between individuals who are excited to finally hear better with their new devices and others who may feel embarrassed of their hearing loss and thus not take full advantage of their hearing aids. Some patients are excited to stream podcasts and music with their new devices, whereas other patients may find their hearing aid app confusing and intimidating and therefore not want to use it. Finally, some patients may nod their head and claim they understand all of their new hearing aid features during the fitting appointment, but when they get home and try to use it on their own, they discover “It sounded easy when the clinician showed me how to use it, but now I’m lost.” How do we best support patients with their hearing aids, with a goal to maximize hearing aid usage from day one?

I believe the answer to the million dollar question is better education. Helping patients use effective educational tools can lead to a big win for my patients.

Remember what it is like to learn something new - whether it was learning how to swim or learning how to solve a math equation in grade 8 - it wasn’t as easy as a teacher telling you how to do it, and immediately being able to apply it. Typically, you had to enter a period of ‘trying it for yourself before you felt comfortable doing it on your own. For swimming, that may mean practicing with a flutter board or floaty until you get the strokes right while an instructor supervises you. The same goes for learning how to use a hearing aid! Patients need a collaborative, effective, and patient-centered approach to learning hearing aid related skills, one in which they can get hands-on training and experiment with the hearing aid, all with the clinician present before they go home.

There are several tasks that patients need to do in order to successfully utilize their hearing aids. Some of these tasks are quite complicated, and include multiple steps, tiny parts, and strengthened manual dexterity skills. Let’s focus on one of these issues - hearing aid insertion. I’m going to make a bold statement here: The most important part of a hearing aid dispensing appointment is properly teaching a patient how to put hearing aids on their ears. Properly placing a receiver-in-the-canal hearing aid is a deceivingly difficult task. During this task, patients cannot directly see what they are doing, and they may even have dexterity issues or loss of feeling in their fingers.

What I like to use are scaffolds, or educational aids, in teaching this skill.  Simply explaining how to put a hearing aid into an ear and expecting a patient to do it effectively is unrealistic! I like to ease a patient into this learning experience, starting with easier tasks, and working our way up to more difficult tasks. By using a display ear and manikin head, I can have patients get much needed practice inserting a hearing aid into an ear.  A hand-held display ear model is a very useful tool. A patient is able to easily manipulate the prop ear, look at the hearing aid from different angles, and use different leverages to properly insert the hearing aid into the model. Using a realistic model ear is also very helpful in showing patients how an ear canal can change in shape depending on how the pinna is pulled or manipulated. The display ear is an excellent introductory scaffold for most patients.

With so many looming changes in the industry (which may or may not come to fruition), one thing can be for certain - providing a unique and tailored patient experience that emphasizes education first and utilizes these models will differentiate you and your practice better than any new technology.

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