November 5, 2019

When Doctor Doesn’t Know Best

Doctors can create negative attitudes to hearing aids.

We wrote recently about a client and her negative attitude to wearing hearing aids: Changing Minds. If she would have happily accepted what we could do for her, it would have a transformational effect on her life and personal relationships. We came to the conclusion that, as a society, we still have a long way to go before openly discussing hearing and accepting hearing help becomes ‘the norm’ for everyone.

Houston we have a Problem

In another previous post, we also introduced a short video, The Importance of Hearing Well Being, where we highlighted the need to rethink the language we use in our consultations, meetings and messages when discussing hearing. The modern-day healthcare approach is to adapt language, if the opposite word or phrase may have a detrimental or negative interpretation.

So, medics regularly talk about being healthy rather than being normal.

The opposite of healthy is unhealthy; the opposite of normal is abnormal.

And no one wants to be considered abnormal!

These subtle changes can have a very strong outcome on how we react to accepting changes in our lives and lifestyles. Transforming language is no easy task as we don’t always hear what we say until we’ve said it. As audiologists, we are tasked with educating our medical colleagues to consider how they discuss their patients’ sense of hearing.

Our attention was drawn to a recent article published on the hearing health matters website* which highlighted some of the most discouraging things people with hearing challenges experience when first seeking help.

The No. 1 was, depressingly, the attitude of some doctors and GPs to hearing loss.

Some of the reported doctor to patient comments included:

“Your hearing is normal for your age”

“Bring someone with you that can hear”

“Hearing aids don’t help”

“Hearing aids can’t help tinnitus”

“You don’t need hearing aids”

“Hearing aids won’t work for you

“Just get one”

“You’re too old to do anything for your hearing”

“Hearing aids damage your hearing”

“There is no treatment for your hearing loss”

“You’re just getting old…”

We have even heard the flip-sided comment “My doctor told me I’m too young to wear hearing aids?”

So, what’s it to be? Young or old? One or two? With confusion like this, it’s no surprise that so many people are discouraged from seeking help.

Our audiologists at Hearing Healthcare Practice have heard all these comments and many others, more times than we care to remember and what’s crucial to note before we go any further is:

These comments are blatantly untrue!   

Thankfully not all doctors hold these outdated views as many are very enlightened and supportive. But, as the article reported, it seems clear that discouragement and poor advice from some physicians play a major part in how patients react to their hearing issues.

Why Would You Say Such Things? Doctors and Hearing Aids.

We obviously don’t believe any doctors are deliberately trying to mislead people – they are, of course, simply trying to help and reassure their patients. But in doing so, they may be blissfully unaware the effect their words can have. We’ve written before about the detrimental effect ignoring improving our hearing can have on our health. Perhaps, instead, as professionals we should all focus on what not hearing well deprives us of – connections with the people around us.

In the highlighted, Hearing Healthcare Matters article audiologist Paul Teie went on to say:

 “Poorly informed doctors simply don’t know what they’re doing when they rely on outdated information and poorly informed opinions that have the effect of discouraging their patients from seeking our hearing help so essential to them and the people they love.”

 We ALL have to take responsibility. It would be easy to simply blame someone else for this apathy and misinformation. But that’s not the point here.

Clearly, if these attitudes still exist in some areas of the medical profession we, the hearing healthcare professional, need to do a far better job explaining the truly incredible effect our intervention can have. No matter how old… or young the patient is!

All audiologists need to steer the conversation away from technology and hearing aids and realign their focus on the amazing outcomes we provide for people… rather than the process of delivering help.

(Takes a deep breath)

OK, I’m going to say it!

Hearing aids have an image problem. That’s torn it.

There’s no going back now or trying to deny it.

They always have and perhaps they always will.

I truly hope not but, while the hearing technology industry struggles to find the aspirational key to present this amazing technology, we have to take back control of the conversation (sorry!).

So, if hearing aids do have an image problem, why are we talking about them in the first place?

Particularly if it’s not what they do that’s important.

It’s what they do for our clients, that’s far more enlightening.

We need to tell our medical colleagues, and anyone who’ll listen, just how transformational our work can be.

Every single day.

Our clients regularly take the time to bring to life their stories in letters, cards and emails.

Sometimes even taking to poetry! Here are just some examples:

“Thanks to the confidence you gave me, I met and married my husband.”

“Without your help, I would have struggled to hear the vicars whispered words at our wedding. Without your support, I wouldn’t be able to hear the wonderful snuffles and gurgles my baby makes. These are the things that make life incredible.”

 “An early morning walk has changed from pleasant exercise to a fulfilling experience as I am welcomed by the call of tiny birds in song as though they are waiting for me. It sometimes brings tears to my eyes. I feel alive again.”

“I just couldn’t believe how much life I had been missing”

“My closest friends tell me I am looking better and younger, I really do feel so much better and more confident.”

“I walk across Hampstead Heath regularly. Now I do it with a huge grin on my face. Hearing birdsong again is something I will never tire of or take for granted. I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming or imagining it. It is wonderful.”

As members of the global community – rather than just the medical profession – we all need to understand, to learn and accept that we need to talk about hearing more.

We need to understand. Hearing is life and if we’re not hearing, we’re really not living.

Note to Self: Must do Better.

* Doctors Discourage Hearing Treatment