Going to the doctor can be stressful at any time, but when you have hearing loss it can also be a communication challenge. Mumbling receptionists make it difficult to check-in and hear your name called when the doctor is ready to see you. In the examination room, doctors are often multitasking, taking notes with their back turned at the same time they ask you questions or provide information about your medical condition. This doesn’t work for someone who uses lipreading to augment what he or she hears. Surprisingly, this can sometimes occur at hearing loss related appointments, even those at your audiologist’s office. When you have hearing loss, self-advocacy is required to make sure you get the most out of every doctor appointment.
Follow these tips to get the health care you deserve.
1. Discuss your needs upfront. When you make your appointment, mention that you have hearing loss and ask if any accommodations are available. You will learn a lot simply by the reaction they have to this question. Unfortunately, some doctor’s offices — even those related to hearing — do not provide any hearing assistance either at reception or during the appointment. A portable loop or simple pocket-talker device could make all the difference.
2. Bring your own devices. Wear your hearing aids and bring whatever assistive listening devices you have available. This could include a Roger pen, a simple FM system or a free speech-to-text app like the recently launched Live Transcribe by Google. Medical information can be confusing and full of jargon. Ask for clarification in writing, when necessary.
3. Start your appointment off with a reminder. When you arrive at the office, remind the receptionist about your hearing loss and request that she speak more slowly and while facing you. If an accommodation is available that you think would be helpful, ask that she use it. Request that they alert you with a tap on the shoulder when it is your time to go in. In the exam room, tell the doctor about your hearing loss and your communication preferences.
4. Provide real-time feedback, both positive and negative. Thank the receptionist for utilizing accommodations or for speaking in a way that you can hear. The same goes with the doctor. Positive feedback often leads to continued constructive behavior. When they drift away from communication best practices, provide a gentle nudge back in the right direction. Reminders might be necessary several times during each appointment. Rather than be frustrated by this, remain focused on doing what it takes to get the important information you need.
5. Make a Communication Action Plan (CAP). Complete a CAP that details the ways that the doctors and staff should best communicate with you and share it with your providers. A CAP lists the types of devices you use to hear and what services you need from the provider for better communication. Your CAP should be kept in your medical record for easy access at each appointment, but bring it with you anyway, in case it was misplaced. You can print the CAP template here. Read about how to use it in Guide For Effective Communication in Healthcare, published by Hearing Loss Association of America.
6. Ask for important details in writing. Request the doctor write down the key conclusions of your visit including any required medication and dosage information. Bring along a pad and pen for this purpose. Clarify details for your next appointment in writing or request a confirmation email. Review all insurance/billing information in writing and ask for clarification when needed.
When you have hearing loss, self-advocacy in a medical setting is critical. It can be frustrating when medical personnel do not use communication best practices, or do so for a brief period of time and then revert back to difficult speech patterns. Do not use this as an excuse to remain silent. Advocate for yourself — always politely — ensuring you get the results that you desire. If your current provider is unresponsive to your communication needs, start looking for a new one.
Readers, what tricks do you use to hear your best in a medical setting?
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