World Hearing Day 2023 is just around the corner, observed annually on March 3rd to raise awareness about hearing health and prevention of hearing loss. This year’s theme, “Ear and hearing care for all”, emphasizes the need to integrate ear and hearing care within primary care to ensure everyone receives equal access to hearing care services. It highlights the importance of greater sensitivity to the needs of those with hearing loss, as it can lead to better care and outcomes.
In this article, we will explore the significance of ear and hearing care in primary care and how increased awareness of hearing health can benefit individuals and communities.
The Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Older Adults
For older adults, hearing loss and healthcare settings often overlap, presenting significant challenges. According to a 2016 report in the American Journal of Public Health, two-thirds of people aged 70 and older have bilateral hearing loss, and almost three-quarters have hearing loss in at least one ear. As a result, hospitals and healthcare facilities are full of older patients who may be hard of hearing.
Communication Breakdowns and Healthcare Outcomes
Communication errors in healthcare facilities can have serious consequences for patients and healthcare providers alike. Even minor misunderstandings can compromise healthcare outcomes. Hospital devices, intercoms, and other sources of background noise can make it difficult for patients to understand instructions or conversations, particularly if they are already exhausted or ill.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Healthcare Outcomes
A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society compared readmission rates of Medicare patients who self-reported hearing loss with those who did not. The study found that patients with hearing loss had, on average, 32% higher odds of hospital readmission within 30 days of discharge. This higher rate was specifically associated with hearing loss, even after adjusting for age.
Barriers to Self-Advocacy in Healthcare Settings
Patients with hearing loss may find it difficult to practice self-advocacy in healthcare settings. They may be hesitant to ask healthcare providers to repeat information or remove surgical masks, particularly if they are already feeling ill or anxious. A small study found that patients with hearing loss often did not mention their hearing difficulties to healthcare staff during hospital stays.
Noisy Healthcare Settings
Noise in healthcare facilities can make it challenging for patients to rest, heal, and communicate. Loud hospital devices, intercoms, conversations, and alarms can make speech harder to understand, even if they do not wake patients up. Noisy hospitals have also been linked to the development of high blood pressure, increased pain sensitivity, stress, and poor mental health.
Improving Communication in Healthcare Facilities
Healthcare facilities can take several steps to improve communication with patients who have hearing loss. Healthcare professionals can proactively ask patients whether they have hearing difficulties and reassure them that asking questions is welcome. Hospitals can also consider using sound-absorbing materials, sound masking, and limiting conversations in hallways to reduce noise levels.
Patient Empowerment and Resources
Medicare collects and shares data on hospital communication, including patient ratings of staff listening skills and their ability to explain things clearly. Medicare’s Hospital Compare tool allows patients to view hospitals’ scores for each question in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative investigates healthcare institutions’ compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act to rectify access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on healthcare outcomes, particularly for older adults. Healthcare facilities can take steps to improve communication with patients with hearing loss, and patients can empower themselves by advocating for their needs and accessing resources such as Medicare’s Hospital Compare tool.
On this World Hearing Day, let us commit to taking care of our hearing health and spreading awareness about the importance of ear and hearing care. If you or a loved one are experiencing any hearing difficulties, we encourage you to visit our practice for a comprehensive hearing evaluation. We are dedicated to providing personalized care and the latest hearing technology to improve your quality of life. Let us work together towards better hearing for all.