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The good, the bad, and the ugly

Kirkwood, David H.

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000391529.91223.3d


No, I haven't been watching Clint Eastwood's old “spaghetti Westerns.” Actually, I was catching up on some fascinating posts on The Hearing Post, our blog, which you can read at by clicking on Blogs.

One thought-provoking section of the blog, edited by Ross Roeser, deals with “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in hearing healthcare education. That same phrase also describes some items that crossed my desk recently. So as not to end the year on a downer, let's start with the ugly.

I've heard a number of complaints about a national mail campaign to consumers. Enclosed in an envelope marked “Hearing Stimulus Package Inside” is a letter with a bold headline saying, “$2 million hearing stimulus package announced for Texas” (or other state, depending on the consumer's address). While the letter states that the offer is “not part of a government-sponsored benefit or bailout and does not have to be repaid,” much of the wording, and the official-looking $1000 voucher that comes with it, gives the strong impression that the promotion is related to the much talked-about 2009 federal economic stimulus package.

I'm not alone in thinking that. When a consumer affairs reporter in Houston showed the mailing to the Houston Better Business Bureau, a spokeswoman stated, “It's misleading advertising, I would think, because they're using words like, ‘stimulus’, ‘announced for Texas,’ millions of dollars,’ all those sorts of things that are in the talks today about stimulus.” Surely, the quality of the hearing industry's products and the professionalism of practitioners have reached a high enough level that no one should stoop to this kind of deceptive marketing.

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The “bad” item was a story I ran across on the web from the Lakewood [CA] Press Telegram. It reported that Mayor Joe Esquivel would retire from local government at age 79 because of his diminished hearing. He was quoted as saying, “I bought some expensive hearing aids, but they still don't (fix the problem). It's getting embarrassing when you can't hear some things.”

I feel bad for Mr. Esquivel, but what really bugs me is to see a newspaper story that's bound to leave readers with the impression that hearing aids don't help.

True, few outside of Lakewood read the article, so the damage was limited. But it's a shame—and a missed opportunity—whenever a hearing-impaired person of some prominence—whether local or national—goes unaided. Just imagine if President Reagan—whose well-publicized successful ITC fitting helped fuel a 20% boom in national hearing aid sales in 1983—had told reporters that his doctor said nothing would help his hearing so they would just have to yell their questions to him louder.

This bad situation could become a good one if some Lakewood hearing professional found a way to reach the mayor and provide his or her assistance. Then maybe the Press Telegram would run a follow-up story with the headline, “Former mayor says new hearing aids make retirement a blast.”

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Now for the “good.” There is, as HJ has reported, a growing movement in the U.S. to equip public facilities with induction loops. Thanks to some dedicated activists, certain communities have made public meeting halls far friendlier to telecoil-equipped hearing aid wearers.

One such activist is Juliette Sterkens, AuD, of Oshkosh, WI. Her letter on page 37 explains why, as advocates for their patients, audiologists should encourage the installation of loops in their locality. But what really brings her point home are two recordings you can listen to on our web site (go to and click on Podcasts).

Dr. Sterkens made them in a church in Oshkosh prior to a baptism. Both are recordings of the mother's voice as she welcomes people to the ceremony. On the first, called “In the loop,” is the woman as heard by a hearing aid wearer using the loop. It is crystal clear. However, on “Out of the loop,” where the sound is recorded via a laptop microphone, the voice is scarcely audible.

For various reasons, many practitioners have been slow to embrace this technology. I urge those of you who have been among the skeptics to listen to the tapes and see if you agree that hearing is believing.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.