The landscape for hearing health care has changed dramatically over the past 35 years. This ever evolving profession has undergone legislative changes that prior to 1978 would not permit qualified audiologists to fit hearing aids for their patients, to laws, decades later, requiring that all audiologists entering the field hold a doctorate degree. And while the profession has seen many positive changes that have augmented the professional scope of the practitioner resulting in better hearing and improved lifestyle for more patients, there is also a vagueness regarding hearing care standards that baffle both patients and some physicians.
One possible explanation for the confusion about hearing care and hearing health is a general lack of awareness about the auditory system, its effect on cerebral health, and the role of amplification and aural rehabilitation in the care of hearing impaired patients. Another explanation for general befuddlement is the seeming overabundance of hearing care facilities. Many facilities run aggressive advertisement campaigns that focus on “selling” and of course “discounting” hearing aids. Sorting through the confusion of big box store proclamations, marketing gimmicks (see post Marketing Predators: The EAR-ie Truth), and too often hurried fittings by some audiologists both in private practice and those employed by otologists, often leaves patients vulnerable to making decisions that may not have the best outcomes for their hearing rehabilitation.
Hearing aids are prescribed to improve communication, increase brain stimulation and overall to improve quality of life. Yet, often hearing aids are not appropriately fit, verified nor measured for their success, nor accompanied by a systematic process to ensure that the fitting goals are met. This logically can affect not only the patient’s satisfaction with the instruments, but with the quality of life improvement as well. It is therefore of critical importance that patients, and families who are ready to begin the journey toward better hearing, understand that there are industry standards in place to ensure best outcome. These standards are called best practices, and by following best practices, there is a system available to ensure best outcomes both from an acoustic perspective but also from a quality of life perspective.
A recent article by Sergei Kochkin published earlier this year by the Hearing Review compares outcomes for hearing aids purchased by users through direct-mail hearing aids and those who opted for a more traditional route. The results indicate that patients are “significantly more satisfied if all best practices are employed by the hearing professional in the clinic or office. Satisfaction from direct-mail purchases exceeds that from offices where best practices are not followed.” This study and others similar, and the organizations that guide our profession outline and emphasize the importance of the use of best practices as a tool to provide best care for patients.
For patients and their families looking for hearing care and for physicians seeking the best referrals for their patients, best practices format makes it easy. It demystifies so much of the hearing care process. Indeed, hearing health care is a process, not a device. Educate yourself, your patients, and your loved ones about the standards that should be expected for best hearing outcomes.
Download our best practices “shopping guide” (available soon) on our website that can be used to compare process and procedures from one facility to another. Best practices are the gold standard for hearing health care and regardless of the location, these methods should be applied. The savvy patient will use this guide as a tool, and ask targeted questions when interviewing a practitioner. Better hearing health begins with knowledge. The power is yours.
Hears to better hearing and better health!
Stefanie Wolf, Au.D.
Doctor of Audiology
Audiology of Nassau County
165 North Village Avenue
Rockville Centre, NY 11570