Peter Hutchison, Class of 2016
University of South Florida
When I hear the word tinnitus, my eyes widen and endorphins race to my brain. Ringing in the ears—one of the most common issues associated with any type of hearing loss— is the topic of research for my doctoral project. When I hear the words ringing, buzzing, whooshing, or pulsing my hyper focus kicks in and I say to myself, “This is my thing.” I have read article after article discussing statistics about who tinnitus affects, what might be the cause of this debilitating ringing, how it is measured in humans and animals, and the general lack of understanding in this subject.
And yet … when I found myself face to face with a patient who was so deeply disturbed by her tinnitus that she was willing to request a nerve section, I realized that I did not know that much at all. What I realized that I lacked was personal connection, empathy, and the counseling ability that I knew was going to be crucial to this case. Additionally, I realized how much I did not know regarding tinnitus and management in a clinical population. I learned two important lessons with this patient; the first being serving the patient and not just the condition. The second being that sometimes there are things that are simply out of my control and my scope of knowledge.
Providing patient-centered care is something that sounds appealing and makes logical sense, but often I find difficult to practice. When I see a moderate, sloping, high frequency hearing loss, I think about the hearing aid I will recommend at the end of the appointment. When a patient complains of dizziness upon getting out of bed, I consider BPPV. These initial thoughts are natural, and there is nothing wrong to start thinking about the issue at hand and the recommendation that I will make. The problem is that I often find myself stopping there. I forget to consider the needs and desires of that particular patient. I forget to consider the patient’s activity limitations, participation restrictions, and perceived or experienced stigma. I forget to consider the emotional journey that the patient has been on for much longer than the last 30 minutes that they have been in my sound booth.
I realized that I needed to practice better patient-centered care the day I first met the patient with the debilitating tinnitus. Tears poured from her eyes the entire appointment. I tried to offer knowledge, suggestions, and recommendations, but the tears would not stop. Upon reflecting on this appointment, I realized that I tried to provide informational counseling, when what she needed was emotional support. I tried to suggest technology and rehabilitation programs without developing a common ground with the patient.
At the end of the day, patients are autonomous beings, and they decide whether to follow our recommendations. Those decisions depend heavily on the partnerships we develop via counseling. And this approach is an evidence-based practice. Finding common ground has been shown to be a key to a successful clinical outcome. (Brown, Weston, & Stewart, 2003)” (Clark & English, 2014)
It did not matter what I suggested at the moment. At the moment, my patient wanted support counseling. She wanted to know that we haven’t reached the end of the road. She wanted to know that the people she was looking to for help understood what she was going through, and that we weren’t going to just give up. She wanted to start a relationship of complete care and trust, instead of a regimen.