Dr. Hudson is an audiologist at Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital in Dixon, IL.
It surprised no one that a recent AARP-ASHA survey found that patients are far more likely to get blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings, and vision tests than they are hearing tests. (See FastLinks.) These tests are ordered by physicians. Audiologists’ and other healthcare professionals’ must educate the public on the importance of hearing checks, but the major problem is that too many physicians do not ask about or order tests for hearing loss, even for high-risk patients.
It is baffling that hearing sensitivity is still overlooked by most physicians despite published evidence that hearing loss decreases quality of life and adversely affects communication. I bet many audiologists regularly see patients in their 70s and 80s who have hearing loss but who never had hearing tests, despite regular checkups.
Patients, in my opinion, will see the importance of monitoring their hearing when their physicians express concern. Identifying hearing loss becomes more important to patients when physicians, as part of a routine physical, order baseline hearing tests, especially for those 55 and older who have a greater risk. I do not think annual testing is necessary, but periodic testing for those with existing hearing loss and those with a predisposition is good patient care. Routine use of a screening questionnaire, such as the Five-Minute Hearing Test developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, can identify potential hearing loss. (See FastLinks.) It will open up a conversation about hearing loss during the exam, at the very least.
Senior citizens’ reluctance to seek help because of affordability is another concern. Patients with hearing loss may assume they need a hearing aid and might avoid seeking help because of the cost. The greater need is to identify the cause of hearing loss and then determine if medical treatment is necessary. The decision to use amplification could be made later, but the need to rule out medical causes should be the primary concern.
Patients agree to have their cholesterol and blood pressure checked, as well as other recommended tests because they trust that their physicians are concerned about monitoring their health. The same would be true of hearing tests if more physicians included them into caring for their patients’ well-being. Encouraging physicians to understand the detrimental effects hearing loss has on quality of life and asking them to use a quick tool such as the Five-Minute Hearing Test will identify those who need help, improve their lives, and teach the public that the medical community finds hearing loss to be an important disability.
* Check out AARP-ASHA's survey at http://bit.ly/ASHASurvey.
* Read HJ’s article on AARP-ASHA's survey at http://bit.ly/AARP-ASHA.
* Use the five-minute hearing test at http://bit.ly/5minuteTest.
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