Editor's Message: The Evolving Role of Audiology Requires Mastery of New Skills, Delegation of Others

Author: Brian Taylor, Au.D.

Several studies suggest the needs of adults with hearing loss are not being met. Some of these studies demonstrate audiologists would rather focus on test results and levels of amplification technology instead of the social and emotional needs of persons with hearing loss. Further, certain educational needs of hearing aid owners are not being adequately addressed. In one study, 90% of hearing aid owners demonstrated difficulty with basic hearing aid management tasks, such as inserting the device into the ear or properly cleaning it. Another study, published in 2013, reported that almost one-half of hearing aid owners did not receive enough practical help about their hearing aid use. Obviously, insufficient training and support can lead to poor outcomes and non-use of hearing aids. But just how widespread of a problem this poses is a question that warrants further analysis.

Elizabeth Convery of Australia’s National Acoustic Laboratory and colleagues at the University of Queensland has addressed some of these apparent gaps in the needs of adults seeking help from audiologists. The results of their studies, summarized in their article in this issue of AP, support the fact that a clinician’s role is more than discussing test results or providing verbal instructions on how to handle and maintain hearing aids. It is equally important to establish whether patients have learned mastery of their device and self-managed problem solving skills. Audiologists who are proficient at teaching patients both of these skills, especially in a market where patients can purchase hearing aids on-line and then seek professional guidance, offer a service that cannot be duplicated by lesser skilled technicians or machine learning algorithms.

Using Convery and colleagues article as a springboard, audiologists would be wise to ensure the following tasks are being completed with their adult amplification candidates:

  1. Empower patients to recognize and independently solve communication problems. The process of empowerment can be facilitated by getting patients involved in decision making and supporting their treatment choices. The use of easy-to-understand, visually appealing decision aids that present patient’s with a range of treatment options can be used to help patient’s feel empowered in their choices.
  2. Convey technical information in ways that are easy for patients to understand. Provide them with concise printed materials that they can refer to after the appointment. Websites, like the University of Nottingham’s C2HearingOnline, reinforce the audiologist’s message and free-up valuable clinical time.
  3. Break appointments into smaller chunks. To ensure patients understand all aspects of successful hearing aid use, consider bringing the patient back more often for follow-up appointments, or better yet, use Skype and other forms of tele-health to relay information to the patient in smaller chunks. Utilize support personnel whenever possible in the follow-up care and support process to ensure your clinic operates efficiently.
  4. Break the Hearing Aid Check and other similar appointments into “knowing how” and “knowing when” buckets. “Knowing how” refers to hands-on skills patients must acquire to be successful hearing aid users. These skills can be learned by patients with the help of a website or adept audiology assistant. On the other hand, “knowing when” skills are more abstract and require audiologists to teach patients more complex tasks that require a higher level of cognitive awareness and skill, such as knowing when to use a remote microphone or knowing how to be a more assertive, proactive listener.
Using new technology, like automated hearing testing, artificial intelligence hearing aid algorithms, and web-based educational videos, not only has the potential to free up time in the clinic to see more patients. These technologies have the potential to broaden the demand for audiology services. By embracing these tools and charging for these services, audiologists are poised to better meet the needs of a growing aging population.