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Hearing loss is a common problem in the US, but healthcare providers might need to do a little more to accommodate their needs, according to a study by New York University.
Researchers there analyzed data about hospital patients and found that those with hearing loss had a 32 percent chance of readmission within the next month due to communication problems they had with their physicians.
The study utilized 4,436 participants aged 65 and older. Around 2010 and 2013, all were hospitalized. Around 12 percent said they had hearing problems, which made it difficult for them to communicate with doctors and other medical staff. Few hospitals even asked patients about their hearing loss upon admission, according to the study.
The researchers concluded that raising awareness with medical staff about the high prevalence of hearing loss among seniors and educating them about how to interact with people with hearing disabilities would go a long way to curbing readmission costs for insurance companies and the patients themselves.
How are healthcare environments hostile to those with hearing loss?
Noisy environment: While some hospitals, offices, and particularly the private patient rooms of family medical practice facilities may be relatively quiet, many of them are not. The hospital atmosphere, in particular, can be anything but conducive to attentive listening, with the beeping sounds of machines, noisy machinery, and a host of other distractions.
Chaotic environment: For emergency and trauma response environments, in particular, the complexity of interfacing with the public will make communications difficult. If life is at stake, questions from the doctor are often uttered quickly and demand an equally fast response.
Lack of understanding: The hearing impaired often complain that medical professionals show a lack of empathy and knowledge about hearing loss. Indeed, some studies show doctors make fewer visits to the rooms of hearing-impaired patients and spend less time in the room when they do visit.
Due to the above concerns, the information provided to health care professionals may not be reliable or complete, resulting in diagnostic, diagnosis, and overall care discrepancies or inaccuracies.
For these reasons, physicians and health care providers need to take steps to accommodate those with hearing loss. Here is a two-step process for doing so.
First step: ask questions
Healthcare providers have a legal obligation to communicate effectively as far as they can, and part of their job is to understand the needs of patients and try to accommodate them.
Asking one simple question (Do you have a hearing loss?) will help doctors become more aware of the communication needs of patients. Such knowledge will contribute to more knowledge about the needs of patients that can allow them to communicate more effectively in hospitals.
According to Dr. McKee, a doctor who has worked with many Deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, the best way to communicate with a patient with hearing problems depend on the individual’s context. “”Instead of assuming, the first question is, ‘How do we interact effectively with you?'”
UT Health San Antonio hospitalist Christopher Moreland agrees:
“The best communication technique is what works best for the patient.”
To aid in this process of diagnosing communication needs, The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) has also developed a guide that helps health care providers understand more about the needs of their patients with hearing impairments. Called A Communication Access Plan (CAP), this is a one-page form that will record the hearing status and communication needs of patients. A completed CAP will help ensure that health care providers and patients use the necessary resources to communicate effectively.
Next step: use communication strategies
Once a hearing loss can be identified, the healthcare professional can then move on to strategies that can facilitate communication. Although each person’s experience of hearing loss can vary, for those with mild to severe hearing variants, The HLAA identify that the following communication strategies can be useful:
- Lower background noise.
- Reduce visual stimuli to a minimum.
- Make sure that the room is well lit. The light source should be in front and not behind the person speaking.
- Do not oversimplify information.
- Make sure the patient can see your mouth.
- Speak with consistency and restraint, and do not shout.
- Provide as much information as possible before any surgical mask is placed on.
- If the patient doesn’t understand what’s being said, rephrase the same words or sentences rather than repeat.
- Inform the patient when the topic changes in your conversation.
- Use diagrams, templates, graphs, and other visual aids.
- Try not to ask members of their family, friends, or carers to facilitate communication.
To people who are hearing impaired, the greatest obstacle to contact is the lack of consideration by others. Nevertheless, health workers can ensure high-quality communication by being informed and preparing the patient, thus giving more patients access to appropriate and effective health care.