Imagine the scenario if you needed to go to an urgent care center or emergency room. Upon entering, your emotions would likely make your conversation with the front desk confusing, even frantic. As you try to explain why you came to the hospital, the front desk personnel would ask you a series of questions about your personal information and insurance, as well as the basic details of your needs. When you proceed to the triage station, you would be responding to rapid questions while other noises make the environment confusing and distracting.

Seeing and hearing other patients at the same time you are trying to give complete information to the triage nurse might come as a struggle to focus. When you find yourself in a curtained bed in a room full of other emergent situations underway, your interaction with the doctor might be equally difficult to follow. By asking questions and delivering diagnoses full of jargon, you might be grasping at straws to follow the process. From start to finish, an encounter with an urgent care facility can make communication challenging for anyone.

Now, consider this experience for a person with hearing loss. Those who have hearing loss tend to have communication issues in any context. Yet, in a medical environment where verbal communication is used as the primary mode of diagnosis, the clarity of communication is more vital than anywhere else. Those with hearing loss can have trouble following the line of questioning given by nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel, even to the point of misdiagnosis and mistaken treatment. When the sonic environment contains other competing sounds, such as an urgent care center, this setting can be particularly difficult.


Medical Care and Hearing Loss

A recent study found quantifiable evidence of this trend, particularly among older patients. Those older people who had hearing loss were more likely to return for additional visits to the doctor than those who did not have hearing loss. Specifically, these patients had a 32 percent higher likelihood of hospital readmission within a 30-day period following their visit. If the above scenario is any indication, we have a sense of why this higher rate of return might occur. Those who are unable to clearly hear the diagnostic questions coming from a health provider will be similarly unable to provide the right answers. Furthermore, those with untreated hearing loss tend to find ways to work around questions that they don’t understand, either supplying answers that allow the conversation to proceed or even ignoring the parts of questions that they don’t understand. This confusing conversational process can have practical results in the lives of patients with hearing loss.


Accommodation Hearing Loss in Medical Contexts

Some accommodations for hearing impairment are mandatory in healthcare settings. When serving patients who are deaf or hard of hearing, doctors and nurses are required by law to supply sign language interpreters for their conversations. However, what accommodations are necessary for those who have hearing loss but do not use sign language to communicate?

Unfortunately, few accommodations regulations apply to those who have this type of hearing loss or who have not been properly diagnosed. For this reason, the responsibility lies with health care providers to recognize when hearing loss might be confusing a diagnostic conversation and to provide other forms of accommodation. it might be enough to have a loved one relay questions closer to the ears of this patient or to rephrase questions in a way that is more easily understood.

Questions provided in writing can be helpful for some people with hearing loss in healthcare settings. Perhaps the best accommodation strategy is to move the conversation to a quieter part of the hospital where competing sounds will not interfere. Beyond these accommodation strategies, there is one important thing that the caregivers and loved ones of seniors with hearing loss can do: encourage treatment.

With the assistance provided by hearing aids, these patients can close the gap between diagnostic questioning and being able to give the appropriate answers to these questions. When these conversations happen fluidly, seniors who use hearing aids will be better able to get the healthcare they need, even preventing a return for follow-up care.