Headquarters Report: An Important Addition to the List of Ists: The Value of Audiology Services through the Eyes of a Consumer

Author: Stephanie Czuhajewski, CAE, Executive Director

In 2017, at 45 years of age, I became a hearing health care consumer for the first time.

I made an appointment with an ADA-member audiologist and had my first diagnostic hearing examination. I was nervous, and more than a little embarrassed for having served as ADA’s executive director for nine years, without a full, first-hand understanding of the audiology patient experience. I was also extremely curious and mildly apprehensive about whether (or not) I actually had a hearing loss.

While I came to reluctantly suspect that I did in fact have a hearing deficit (even though my 17-year-old son really does mumble), I wondered if the impairment was significant enough to warrant amplification. If so, I pondered, would I be more inclined to wear hearing aids than I am to wear the no-line bifocals that I spent a ton of money on, I hate, have never gotten used to, and that I only wear when I absolutely cannot get by otherwise (despite my optometrist’s best efforts--and even though my husband finds the glasses “super sexy”)?

When it comes to audiology services, I am, by all accounts, among the most-informed consumers. I have visited more than two dozen audiology practices over the past decade. I understand a great deal about the business of audiology. I am knowledgeable about available audiology services. I know what code 92557 refers to, for heaven’s sake! I also, by osmosis, understand more about the importance of healthy hearing to my well being, than do most lay people.

So, you might ask, why was it only after I suspected that I had a hearing impairment that I made an appointment with an audiologist for a comprehensive hearing examination? The answer is, quite simply, because for all of my ‘audiology’ knowledge, I am no different than the millions of other consumers who don’t know exactly if or when they are supposed to get their hearing tested. I actually was planning to get a baseline preventive hearing exam at 50 years of age (right after my colonoscopy, I swear)!

I have been conditioned, since my youth, to go to the dentist, optometrist, gynecologist, dermatologist, internist (and even hair stylist) routinely for preventive care (the fear of God and every kind of malady is instilled in you to seek regular probing from all of these “ists”). However, there are no hard-and-fast rules about when, or how often, an adult should have her hearing tested by an audiologist, as a precaution, or as a matter of wellness. For the record, this experience has taught me that consumer awareness is the most important factor in addressing the current challenges facing audiology as a profession—and the current challenges facing those with undiagnosed hearing loss. We can do better!!

The good news is, that upon suspecting a hearing loss, I did immediately seek care from an audiologist. The better news is that my audiologist is amazing! She was interested in my perceptions of sound (screened for tinnitus and hyperacusis), and explained the need for sound as part of a healthy environment. She required me to complete a comprehensive health history. She allocated plenty of time to interview me, and she included my husband in the appointment to get his perceptions about my hearing capabilities. She asked me about my perceived communication gaps, needs, objectives, and concerns.

My audiogram results indicated that I have a high-frequency hearing deficit, though still within the range of “normal” hearing. My audiologist performed additional tests, including speech-in-noise testing. After a complete diagnostic assessment, she recommended the following:
  1. No amplification needed at this time
  2. A follow-up exam in one year (notice, she is now on my “ist” list for an annual exam)
  3. Listening and Communication Enhancement (LACE) training to improve my ability to understand speech in noisy situations, where I have trouble. My audiologist advised that I get the online LACE subscription, which I have (I do it three times per week). I should note that my audiologist did not resell/markup the LACE product (I went and subscribed myself at her recommendation).
My audiologist charged me up-front for her services. She was clear about the services for which she charged (she charged for all of them), and she was clear about the fees (not cheap). I was happy (yes, happy) to pay for those services. I value them greatly. My audiologist has improved my quality of life already—and without yet selling me a single device. I now rely on her to the same degree that I rely upon the ‘ists’ that help care for all of my other parts.

Moral of the Story for Me: I thought that working for ADA for almost a decade had taught me what I needed to know about the value of audiology services. I was wrong. It was not until I experienced, for myself, the feeling of vulnerability associated with the fear of losing your hearing, and the genuine concern and care that I received from my audiologist, through her professional diagnostic evaluation, counseling, and follow-up care, that I have come to truly realize on a deep personal level, the true value of these services.

I am now her loyal patient, and she is MY audiologist.

Moral of the Story for You: ADA members, please do not underestimate the value of your services. Charge with confidence, counsel boldly, practice fearlessly, and have the courage and conviction to give your very, very best to every patient, every day. There is no other “ist” on this planet who can provide more benefits or better outcomes than you can, when it comes to hearing and balance health care.

Thank you, for all you do for people like me.
Stephanie Czuhajewski, Hearing Health Care Consumer and Audiologist Ambassador