Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss Can Impact Physician/Patient Communication

A recent article published by NYU (New York University) caught our eye because it talked about the ways in which hearing loss can impact physician/patient communication. Few other conversations are as important as the ones that determine the health care that you receive. We thought it deserved a closer look.

The article discusses the role that hearing loss plays in the ability of physicians to communicate with their patients. Enormous amounts of money have been spent studying this interaction with the goal of improving how doctors collect information for diagnosis and how patients understand their treatment. Up until now, few have examined the role that hearing loss plays in the process.

Our research indicates that the average patient-physician interaction lasts just over 10 minutes and that physicians speak 64% of the time compared to 33% for patients (the caregiver speaks 3% of the time. In addition, the patient, on average, asks 5 questions in that time period while the physician asks 25.

NYU conducted research on the subject and after examining 67 research papers they found that only 16, approximately 24%, included hearing loss as a factor to be considered.

  • Three studies reported that there was a connection between hearing loss and quality of care
  • Only one of the 67 studies mentioned that researchers offered hearing impaired patients some type of hearing assistance. When they did, it improved patient understanding.

We think this calls attention to the fact that those who are hearing impaired need to educate hearing persons (the usual term that the hearing impaired or deaf use to describe those without hearing loss) on how to communicate with them, especially in critical conversations like those between patient and physician.

  1. If your physician is not sensitive to the fact that you are hearing impaired, make him or her aware of it. Describe your level of hearing to the physician.
  2. Instruct the physician how to best communicate with you. For example, do you want him or her to stand directly in front of you or to one side? Do you want the physician to speak more slowly? Tell the physician what you need so that you can clearly articulate your thoughts and understand what the physician is telling you.
  3. Ask if the hospital has assistive devices to help those who are hearing impaired. They vary by hospital but some of them include:
    • Hearing kits for hearing loss
    • Amplified phones
    • TTY phones
    • Pocketalkers, FM systems, or personal amplifiers

Find an expert to enhance your hearing
Low levels of hearing can be enhanced through a variety of hearing devices. First, an audiologist will conduct a comprehensive hearing exam to diagnose your current level of hearing. Then the audiologist will work with you to find the best device to enhance your hearing. It’s important to find one that matches the most common environments in which you live and work. You can read more about these devices in our blog “Hearing Aids – A Big, Bold World of Hearing with Tiny Devices”. It describes the wide variety of hearing aids that can enhance hearing.

Educating hearing persons about hearing impairment is important for both sides of the conversation. When it comes to healthcare, physicians sometimes struggle to communicate clearly. It’s important that they be fully aware of hearing impairments so that it does not become another obstacle to patient/physician understanding.