If I asked you who has the greatest influence in any person’s life in terms of motivating them to take action regarding their hearing loss, who would you say? An audiologist? A spouse? Public perception? Themselves?
In fact, primary-care providers are the ones who really have our patients’ ears. A recommendation from an individual’s primary-care provider may have the greatest impact on their decision to take further action regarding their hearing loss…including seeing an audiologist for a hearing test or deciding to pursue amplification. Because primary-care providers play such a critical role in the adoption of hearing healthcare, they have the potential to be our greatest allies in ensuring sure that children and adults get the timely hearing care they need.
Studies have highlighted the need for increased awareness of the importance of hearing health care and associated referrals to audiologists by primary-care providers (Bennett et al, 2020, Zazove et al, 2017; Wallhagen and Pettengill, 2008). Existing barriers include uncertainties about where to refer and patient motivation or comfort pursuing intervention (Bennett et al, 2020). Partnering with primary-care providers to improve access to audiologists represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the future of hearing healthcare and reach more patients who need the expertise audiologists can provide.
A recent study of how primary-care physicians influence older adults’ changes to diet and exercise patterns demonstrated that the likelihood of patients making a lifestyle change were most strongly influenced by their primary-care physician’s ability to develop a strong relationship, address their concerns and encourage change, and provide concrete instruction.
Similarly, primary-care providers have tremendous influence over patients’ decision to prioritize their hearing health, making it undeniably important that they ask about hearing, recommend hearing tests, and encourage early use of appropriate hearing devices.
Historically, hearing has not been reported to be a topic that is commonly discussed during routine annual physicals (Zazove et al, 2017) or which has referrals commonly made (Mahboubi et al, 2018). But emerging, compelling evidence (Livingston et al, 2020; Kim et al, 2021; Reed et al, 2019) that hearing influences many other aspects of health is bringing hearing loss to the forefront unlike ever before. Hearing has been shown to be related to cognitive function, quality of life, and incidence of falls and may be directly impacted by other health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Ensuring that comprehensive hearing health care is routinely addressed by primary-care is critical for patients to achieve their best outcomes.
How Can Audiologists Partner with Primary Care?
One of our greatest opportunities to change attitudes and behaviors of the public regarding hearing loss is to successfully engage our primary-care colleagues in asking patients about hearing health, encouraging regular hearing testing, and reassuring patients that management by an audiologist is accessible, efficacious and will improve their quality of life and satisfaction.
Engaging in local outreach to primary-care providers will not only serve your local community by improving outcomes, but it will also elevate your profession by underscoring our expertise as professionals who are best equipped to address hearing and balance care. A bonus is that forging new mutually beneficial relationships with primary-care may result in your own practice enjoying an increase in referrals.
The next President’s Challenge, leading up to World Hearing Day on March 3, is to engage with at least one primary-care provider in your local area and then challenge your colleagues to do the same!
Part 1: Arm yourself with information about how
- Early identification and management of hearing loss improves quality of life.
- How hearing loss has ties to other health issues like falls, cognitive decline, and diabetes.
Schedule a call, a presentation, or a meeting to facilitate discussion regarding the following:
- Why sending their patients for routine hearing testing is key to their overall health.
- Whether it is difficult for them to routinely discuss hearing loss with their patients and if so, why?
- How patients’ lives are improved by seeing an audiologist (share testimonials if you have them).
- How they can approach the conversation with their patients easily
Audiologists are the experts in hearing and balance care and we can make it easy for primary-care providers to manage these important aspects of health by offering contact and scheduling information upfront and helping them feel confident that their referral to an audiologist will help their patients will thrive.
You can access resources that will facilitate this conversation here.
- What Is an Audiologist?
- Children and Hearing Loss
- Seniors and Hearing Loss
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss
- Hidden Hearing Loss
- Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Part 2: Encourage your colleagues to take the President’s Challenge by reaching out to a primary-care provider (or many!) in their local area. There are 295,000 primary-care providers in the United States; so, the more of us who actively engage in outreach, the easier it will be for prospective patients to find a path to better hearing and balance.
Part 3: Share a post about how you contributed to the President’s Challenge on your social media account with either a story of your interaction with a primary-care provider that was meaningful, a resource you found particularly helpful (using the links above), or just copy and paste this message to pass the information on: “I accepted the President’s Challenge and contacted (XX Number) primary-care providers to discuss how they can make hearing health a priority with their patients. #IGotYourEar.
Use the hashtag #IGotYourEar in any of your posts and tag @theamericanacademyofaudiology (Facebook), @AcademyofAuD (Twitter), or @AmericanAcademyofAudiology (LinkedIn) so we can share your story, and tag your friends too so they can do the same. Pass on tips and tricks for what made for a successful meeting; share ideas for how we can reach even more primary-care providers and by getting their ear, reaching even more patients who can benefit from better hearing.
Together with our primary-care colleagues, we can improve hearing across the nation and around the world.
Now get out there and take on the challenge!
Bardach S, Schoenberg, N. (2018) The role of primary-care providers in encouraging older patients to change their lifestyle behaviors. Clin Gerontol 41(4): 326–334. doi: 10.1080/07317115.2017.1376029.
Bennett R, Conway N, Fletcher S, Barr C. (2020) The role of the general practitioner in managing age-related hearing loss: a scoping review. Am J of Aud (29)265–289. doi: 10.1044/2020_AJA-19-00090.
Kim A, Morales E, Amjad H et al. (2021) Association of Hearing Loss With Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Older Adults With Cognitive Impairment. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 29(6):544-553. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2020.10.002.
Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A, et al. (2020) Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. Lancet (London, England), 396(10248):413–446. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30367-6 .
Mahboubi H, Lin HW, Bhattacharyya N. (2018) Prevalence, characteristics, and treatment patterns of hearing difficulty in the United States. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 144(1):65-70. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2017.2223.
Reed N, Altan A, Deal J et al. (2019) Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated With Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 145(1):27-34. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2018.2875.
Wallhagen MI, Pettengill E.(2008) Hearing impairment: significant but under-assessed in primary-care settings.J Gerontol Nur 34(2):36–2.
Zazove P, Plegue MA, Kileny PR, McKee MM, Schleicher SL, Green LA, et al. (2017) Initial results of the Early Auditory Referral-Primary-care (EAR-PC) study. Am J Prev Med 53(4): e139–46.
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