Kris English, PhD
The University of Akron/NOAC
Anna Hollingdale, MSc, is an Audiologist in West Sussex, England. She recently touched base after an audiologic counseling course at the Ear Foundation in Nottingham with the following patient encounter:
Recently, a 73-year old female came to see me for a fine tune. The patient’s initial complaints were ones, as Audiologists, we hear often: “I cannot hear in noise” or “I am struggling to communicate with others.” It would have been so easy for me to quickly do a fine tune, or respond with the ‘limitations of hearing aids’ script but instead, I listened…
Soon I learned she has a busy social life and takes part in many activities, but having the hearing loss had started to affect all this. This patient has been coming to our clinic for over a year and had never had the chance to really speak about how the hearing loss was affecting her.
Once she had finished talking, I responded by reflecting what I heard, without adding any solutions: “It seems you are having a really hard time with this, it must be really tough for you.” This “invitation” then enabled the patient to open up even more, and share that she had been avoiding social events and was always looking for ways to cover up her difficulties. The hearing loss was significantly affecting her life and relationships with others. Notably, she did not ask for any answers. All this patient needed was for someone to listen and empathise with her.
At the end of the appointment the patient stood up and said, “Can I just give you a hug?”
I think this says a lot more than any words could!
Another Dimension to Patient Journey: Traveling Together, We Go Farther
The Ida Institute encourages audiologists to consider a “journey” metaphor to better understand the patient experience. A patient’s entry into audiologic care is not an abrupt event, but rather is preceded by several influential experiences. We are charged to sort out those experiences, usually with a question such as “What brings you here today?”
The patient will relay salient facts, an important part of the journey — but not the only part. To date, the journey has also likely been lonely, stressful, confusing. If we fail to inquire about these concerns, the patient may fairly wonder if we even care. Without an indication that the audiologist is personally invested, the prospect of moving forward with no apparent emotional support may seem daunting and unappealing. Consider, for example, a recent study that found a low degree of adherence to hearing aid recommendations when audiologists dominated the conversation discussing technology (Grenness et al., 2015). Our challenge is to convey with our counseling skills that we are not just watching from the curb as patients travel past, left to their own devices. Rathr, we are committed to travel this journey with them.
The Ultimate Confirmation
It seems safe to say that being asked to give a hug is the ultimate confirmation of patient trust. Patients may initially resist hearing help, and therefore resist us, but if we can mindfully travel with them, help them drop their guard, consider change, and know we care, the subsequent relief can be tremendous! When a patient feels words alone will not convey that relief, and instead asks for permission to enter our personal space, trusting that our answer will be YES, she has made an important break-though.
Most patients don’t ask for a hug, but they all ask, somehow or other, for our attention and support.
Grenness, C., Hickson, L., Laplante-Levesque, A., Meyer, C., & Davidson, B. (2015). The nature of communication throughout diagnosis and management planning in initial audiologic rehabilitation consultations. Journal of American Academy of Audiology, 26, 36-50.