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Practice Management

A Private Practice Approach for the New Patient: The Hearing Aid Test Drive

Traynor, Robert M. EdD, MBA, FNAP

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doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000695812.87149.36
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Ever since Miller Reese Hutchison patented the first electronic hearing aid in 1895, clinicians have made recommendations for hearing devices, and patients have made purchase decisions based on these recommendations.1 Seeking expert opinion or guidance has been the method of choice when consumer knowledge of a process, procedure, or product is minimal, such as when someone consults a physician, lawyer, accountants, etc. In hearing health care, this process is known as the traditional medical model wherein the clinician is front and center, focusing on the problem, symptoms, and a remedy. While this process is not perfect, it was acceptable to patients of the Greatest Generation since they were used to this procedure and hearing devices were technologically simpler and more homogeneous from brand to brand. However, as patient demographics changed and hearing devices became more sophisticated, this traditional method has resulted in a substantial number of unsatisfied hearing aid consumers.

Shutterstock/ Kzenon, telehealth, videoconference, hearing loss.
Figure 1
Figure 1:
Traditional model of hearing health care. Telehealth, videoconference, hearing loss.
Figure 2
Figure 2:
Hearing aid test drive model. Telehealth, videoconference, hearing loss.

Hearing devices manufactured today are the product of extensive proprietary research and technological development, offering great performance and widening differences from brand to brand. Since these new products present innovative signal processing algorithms and their manufacturer's own software implementation for specific hearing difficulties, the only way to know if a device is right for the patient is to try them. A further complication of using the traditional medical model is that Baby Boomer patients are more sophisticated, better educated, computer-savvy, and aware of the significant differences between products. Thus, patient satisfaction with amplification comes after letting a patient try various products to find the correct device for him or her.

The new generation of consumers seeking treatment expects to be on an equal footing with clinicians. This new approach has various names, such as shared decision-making. The Ida Institute's Person-Centered Care program has developed tools and resources built on these principles.2 This approach encourages the interaction between clinicians and patients to be perceived as a meeting of the experts. In our practices, the hearing care professional is the expert in hearing rehabilitation, and the patient is the expert in their unique experience of hearing loss. In person-centered care or shared decision-making, the clinician and patient work together to make treatment decisions that are based on clinical results and to evaluate risks (e.g., vanity, feeling “abnormal,” expense) and expected outcomes (e.g., easier communication, more energy, more confidence, happier family).

The hearing health care industry has been anticipating this new generation of patients—a group that has been challenging us with their special adaptation to the aging process. Typically, they are more savvy, assertive, health-conscious, and engaged in their care. These patients expect to have active lives and remain socially engaged, even as they manage chronic conditions such as hearing loss. However, since hearing health care providers cannot predict patient needs by their age, providers must get to know patients to actively involve them in making decisions regarding their hearing health care.3

The hearing aid test drive (HATD) is a method that incorporates person-centered care and shared decision-making into modern hearing health care practices, offering improved patient care as well as business benefits. It empowers patients to become critical decision-makers in their treatment plans. With person-centered clinical guidance, patients are fit immediately following diagnostic testing (when appropriate) and allowed to take hearing devices home without payment or obligation. This method enables patients to experience hearing solutions in their own home, work, and/or social situations for them to determine if a certain product is optimal for their unique hearing loss.

Incorporating the HATD into a person-centered clinical encounter is much more than conducting an in-office demo or trial. Traditional in-office or two-week trials simply allow patients to accept or reject the clinician's first recommendation based only on in-office diagnostics. These models often do not allow patients to take the device out of the clinic, and usually involve a deposit, some level of commitment, and/or time pressure. The HATD dovetails perfectly with the Ida Institute's Person-Centered Care, which is the future of health care services. Since Baby Boomers respond positively when recognized as copilots in their search for better hearing and better quality of life, adopting the HATD model can be beneficial to patients and audiology practices.

REFERENCES

1. Traynor, RM (2015). The Road to the First Electric Portable Hearing Aid and Beyond. Hearing Health and Technology Matters, July 14, 2015, Retrieved February 24, 2020.
2. Ida Institute (2020).Tools. Ida Institute, Nœrum, Denmark, Retrieved February 24, 2020. https://idainstitute.com/tools/#.category-10,.category-11,.category-7,.category-6.
3. Thornhill, M. & Martin, J. (2007). Boomer Consumer. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Linx Books.
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