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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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

By Robert M. Traynor, EdD, MBA, FNAP

Editor's note: This article is published ahead of print. Send comments to [email protected]

The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed everything for a lot of people—with many now thinking differently about various aspects of life going forward, including some things that are simply not going back to the way they were… ever. This is an unprecedented opportunity for audiology practices to redefine themselves in the eyes of their prospective patients. Patients will be looking for a new kind of care that puts them in partnership with the provider and a level of attention to detail that ensures they will remain safe in the process. Independent hearing health care providers are in the unique position to deliver both. Patients will want to place their trust in someone local in their community—someone they believe has their best interest in mind and has a way of doing business that proves it.

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 recommendation 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. Traynor fig 1.jpg

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 about the significant differences among products. Thus, patient satisfaction with amplification comes after letting a patient try various products to find the correct devices for him or her.               

The new generation of consumers seeking treatment expects to be on 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.Traynor fig 2.jpg

Incorporating the HATD into a person-centered clinical encounter is much more than 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 the devices to be taken out of the clinic, and usually involve a deposit, some level of commitment, and/or time pressure. The HATD dovetails perfectly into the Ida Institute's Person-Centered Care, which is the future of health care services. Since Baby Boomers respond positively when recognized as co-pilots in their search for better hearing and a better quality of life, implementing the HATD model can be beneficial to patients and audiology practices.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Traynor is a Private Practice Consultant with Pivot Hearing, the leading private practice consulting firm. Pivot Hearing works with change-oriented hearing care practice owners to help them make great decisions, convert those decisions to action, and achieve the sustainable success they desire. Dr. Traynor is also an adjunct professor of audiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR and an audiology consultant. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association, and a co-author of Strategic Practice Management, 3rd Edition.



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, Nærum, 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.