The recent MarkeTrak 10 report showed that hearing care providers (HCPs) do not universally recommend hearing aids to patients with milder hearing loss. Yet patients with mild hearing loss have motivations and trigger events that are similar to patients with more severe levels of hearing loss. Not addressing these patient’s concerns early on in their journey poses the threat for more detrimental issues occurring down the line, as well as a missed opportunity for HCPs to help these patients.
According to this study, over four in ten Hearing Aid Non-Owners were told to hold off on getting a hearing aid. These patients tended to have milder losses. A majority of Hearing Aid Owners, 87% who were asked about the HCP who fit their hearing aid indicated that they were recommended a hearing aid, vs. only 39% of Non-Owners who were asked about the HCP that they visited most recently. That huge gap suggests two things: 1) that the HCP recommendation is a powerful motivator in driving patients to actually purchase a hearing solution, and 2) that a large opportunity remains to recommend hearing aids to all appropriate candidates.
Despite leaving the office without a recommendation for a hearing aid, Non-Owners often presented indications that they were good potential hearing aid candidates. In fact, Hearing Aid Non-Owners were just as likely to have visited a particular HCP or practice to assess/confirm their hearing level and related issues. Although they reported themselves as being less motivated to take action than Owners, 45% still expressed a desire to take action—significantly more than the 39% of Non-Owners that actually received a recommendation for a hearing aid.
Moreover, the top trigger experiences for Non-Owners were the same as the top triggers for Hearing Aid Owners: “Not able to hear things that matter (e.g. children)”, and “Not enjoying or dreading social situations”. These are serious issues that have grave implications for people’s quality of life. Even when the hearing loss may be less severe, the hearing challenges that these patients present with are just as important.
Research shows that people with hearing loss are twice as likely to experience depression, combined with the increasing evidence of a link between hearing loss and cognitive function, makes it clear that deciding not to recommend a hearing aid every patient who could benefit from amplification may not be in the best interest of the patient. A recent publication in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society* posed evidence that hearing aids could slow cognitive decline later in life, further underscoring the importance of recommending treatment to anyone who might be a candidate.
How can you leverage this missed opportunity to provide a higher level of care while growing hearing aid revenue? We suggest that practices designate a team to create a set of guidelines that standardize the patient hearing evaluation experience. Healthcare has already begun taking a page from other industries in this regard. While pre-flight checklists have been common practice among pilots, hospitals now regularly use pre-op checklists prior to surgery. Why not extend the practice to hearing care?
There will always be nuances in each patient appointment, so guidelines should be clear but flexible. For instance, if a patient who would benefit from treatment decides not to proceed, guidelines may include a step to schedule a follow-up hearing re-check in 12 months. Training plans should also support the practices. If audiologists are being asked to recommend hearing aids to every candidate, then management should empower them with the tools to feel confident in that recommendation—for instance, with training on presentation or counseling skills.
Ultimately, a best practice checklist can help all appropriate candidates receive a recommendation for amplification and create consistency in the patient appointment. Taking advantage of these missed opportunities can ensure that each patient receives the same level of care in a hearing appointment, and boost satisfaction scores. Your patients, and your bottom line will thank you.
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* Maharani A, Dawes P, Nazroo J, Tampubolon G, Pendleton N, on behalf of the SENSE-Cog WP1 group. Longitudinal relationships between hearing aid use and cognitive function in older Americans. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018;66(6):1130-1136.