Why WE Follow Best Practices

Audiology of Nassau County adheres to Best Practices
Audiology of Nassau County adheres to Best Practices

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

Suite #114

Rockville Centre, NY 11570

(516) 764-2094

www.audiologyofnassau.com

 

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Diapers, Cookies and Hearing Aids??

On a recent outing to my beloved Costco for life’s necessities, I found myself paying more attention to the Hearing Aid Center than I had ever in the past. Hearing aid departments at box stores such as Costco are nothing new and I had seen this particular Hearing Aid Center countless times. But as I waited on the checkout line to pay for my diapers, cookies, laundry detergent, paper towels and the rest of my purchases, I found myself keeping a watchful eye on the booth and recalled an article that I had recently read in Bloomberg Businessweek. The article reported 26% growth of hearing aid sales per year on average for the past four years. As an audiologist and hearing aid dispenser, it begs the question…Really?

Of course I am not at all surprised that box stores sell hearing aids. They sell everything else and often at great value with fantastic customer service for their products. But knowing what I know about the process of diagnosing hearing loss and providing appropriate amplification, verification, handholding and counseling, it was indeed startling to read the article. My only rationalization for this is just an overall lack of awareness and understanding from the general public about hearing impairment, hearing aids, and practitioners who work with these issues.

I think that while most people may be aware that a hearing aid can provide benefit for hearing loss there is still so much unknown about audiology, hearing aids and the process of hearing aid fittings. To illuminate on this, audiologists are professionals specializing in disorders of the auditory and vestibular systems; audiologists diagnose and treat hearing and balance problems. Audiologists, most of whom hold a doctoral degree, have the foremost skills and education to evaluate hearing, have been trained to recognize when medical referrals are required, fit hearing aids and provide the critical services that are required for patient success. Otolaryngologists, are medical doctors who are trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the ears, nose, and throat and cancers of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists are specially qualified with at least 5 years of surgical residency training following a medical education. Many otolaryngologists work closely with audiologists who administer hearing evaluations and work with hearing aids. Finally, a hearing aid dispenser, or hearing instrument specialist, is a professional licensed to work with hearing aids. Although requirements vary from state to state, hearing-aid dispensers generally have from six months to two years of supervised training or a two-year college degree and in most states must pass licensing tests.

Some box store hearing aid centers may have audiologists on staff, but most are run by hearing aid dispensers. The Bloomberg Businessweek article reported that Costco in particular is running a program to help their employees obtain hearing aid dispenser licenses. The goal of a hearing aid dispenser is not to provide a thorough diagnostic analysis of the auditory mechanism, but rather a quick hearing screening and a hearing aid sale if a candidate presents. It doesn’t seem possible to service the volume of patients they are reporting and to provide the follow-up verifications all of which are recommended by our industry’s “best practice.” In several attempts at calling two such box stores to find out a little more about their hearing aids and practice, the phone went repeatedly to voicemail, during their stated working hours. When I eventually got through to them, they did confirm their hearing evaluation and follow-up process which, to say the least varies greatly from what we do at our practice.

Sales of hearing aids at box stores and “wanted for a test market trial” mailings that promise steaks, turkeys and pull out all sorts of tricks (which, stay tuned, will surely be a post at a later time), diminish the experience of being diagnosed in a professional setting. In order to put patients first, time is needed, hand holding is needed.

So if, convenience if your thing, (believe me, I get it), and you like to shop under one roof, and are tempted by the signs next to the hot dogs, take a moment to think. First, remember hearing aids are a process, not a product. Do you really want to take shortcuts with your hearing? Finally, ask yourself what are you (or mom, or grandpa) really getting from purchasing hearing aids where you buy tomato sauce?

HEARS to healthy, safe and SMART hearing,

Stefanie Wolf, Au.D.