Unlocking Sound Wellness: The Vital Role of Hearing Healthcare Specialists Over Primary Care Advice

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You undoubtedly already have a primary care physician (even if you don’t see her/him often enough!).

  • “But isn’t seeing a hearing specialist going to cost me more?”
  • “What if I’m too busy?
  • “More appointments?”
  • “Do I really need to get regular audiology check-ups?”

All reasonable questions.

It is true that, today, quite a few primary care doctors dance over into our territory (and even into other territories), and although the primary care doctor is a great centralized person to review all your medical records, when you need specialty care, you need to seek a specialist. As an example, anybody reading this who has a heart condition or diabetes will absolutely have a cardiovascular and endocrinology specialist, respectively.

Specifically, those who specialize in hearing healthcare have additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of auditory conditions, including:

  • presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
  • noise-induced hearing loss
  • Meniere’s disease
  • tinnitus
  • unilateral deafness
  • sudden-onset hearing loss
  • auditory neuropathy
  • vestibular schwannoma

These are NOT primary care issues. They are hearing healthcare issues.

There are some things for which a generalist or ‘jack-of-all-trades’ will do. For other things, you know it is smart to seek out the best specialist there is. When a patient is dealing with the dreaded cancer diagnosis, you do not want them to be under the care of a generalist. This is not to take anything away from all that a generalist has achieved and can do, rather it is to say that a generalist has no business treating cancer. Sorry, not sorry. We often think of the generalist in medicine as the ‘general contractor’ (G.C.) in construction. The best G.C. knows his/her limits and always hires the best electrician, the best carpenter, the best plumber, etc.

To elaborate—if all your income is on a single W-2 from one employer and you have simple ordinary deductions, getting your taxes prepared for the cheapest fee at the seasonal tax office that opens in your neighborhood shopping center is probably fine (heck, maybe you can even do it yourself!). But, if you have a W-2, 1099, investment income from real estate, depreciation on real estate in several states, own stocks and own a Christmas tree farm, you are going to need a good accountant,i.e., a C.P.A.

Or let’s say you need a simple will—leaving everything to your surviving spouse or only child is very straightforward. But, if you are of some means and have a few children, grandchildren, charities you support, investments, you are going to need to see a specialist: an estate planning attorney (not just an attorney).

Hearing healthcare is no different.

While these analogies have driven home our point, it is important to note that the same goes for your healthcare. When you suffer with the symptoms of hearing loss, including tinnitus, social isolation, memory loss, difficulty following a conversation, frustration, etc., you need a specialist. When you have hearing loss, a progressive degenerative disorder that impacts your social, emotional, physical, and cognitive health, you need a specialist.

Now that we have (hopefully) convinced you of the need to see a hearing healthcare specialist, we must help guide you on how to pick the RIGHT hearing healthcare specialist.

First, do they focus on the medical treatment of hearing loss, or do they just sell hearing aids? It does not take a special degree or a lot of money to open a hearing aid shop. When you are searching for a hearing healthcare specialist, make sure you understand their credentials and medical affiliations. As a rule of thumb, if the practice you are visiting is Excellence In Audiology™ approved, you are in the right place!

Second, is the medical treatment plan focused on treating your hearing loss and tinnitus, reducing your risk of dementia, maintaining your independence, decreasing your risk of falling, maximizing cognitive stimulation, and increasing your overall quality of life…. or do they just sell hearing aids? Unfortunately, the letters that come after somebody’s name do not tell the full story. We have seen many ‘bad apples’ that are doctors of audiology, board cer tified hearing specialists and audioprosthologist. When a provider offers an inexpertly applied, standardized solution, they tend to be cheaper than the fees of a specialist that offers custom treatment plans. Cheaper in hearing healthcare implies there is an economic pressure on them to do treatment as quickly and as simply as possible, because they’ve ‘cut it thin’. Cheaper in hearing healthcare also means that treatment outcomes may be compromised.

In this case, it is worth remembering that the medical treatment provided for hearing loss has permanent, lifelong, and life-impacting consequences. This concerns your health, including your risk of dementia, risk of falls, your ability to feel accepted and socialize with others, career longevity and your ability to be independent of others.

When possible, you always want to choose a clinician who specializes in the treatment of your hearing loss and tinnitus.

You may ask, ‘how do I know if my hearing healthcare provider is an audiologist or hearing specialist?’ It’s a great question and a critical one to ask as you seek treatment for your hearing loss and tinnitus.

Only audiologists and hearing specialists that are qualified to be a member-clinic of the Excellence In Audiology™ network can be found online. You can find an approved specialist in your area that focuses on the medical treatment of hearing loss.

Alternatively, you can ask your hearing care provider if she or he has completed a fellowship in audiology or if they underwent the training to become a board-certified hearing specialist. You can also check with your state licensing board.

Do your homework; be a “hearing detective” while on the hunt for such vital information. Look for the words “medical treatment of hearing loss” or ask your generalist for a referral to a hearing healthcare specialist (not someone who just sells hearing aids!). In urban and suburban areas, it will take minimal effort to find a specialist. In more remote, rural locations, your search might take you to another city or town. Do not be afraid to travel for the best healthcare—you are worth it.

Side note: there is no disrespect between hearing healthcare providers and primary care/generalist providers. As a matter of fact, many audiology patients are referred by their PCP. These are great, capable, and caring professionals who know where their expertise begins and ends and do not let ego or income opportunity step in front of what they know is best for their patient.

Just as the generalist doctor must refer her/his patients with possible or significant heart disease to the cardiologist, and if need be, the cardiologist refers to the cardiovascular surgeon, the best generalists refer patients with audiology needs to the hearing healthcare specialist.

Hearing healthcare providers specialize. www.excellenceinaudiology.org.

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