Age, genetics, and exposure to noise are the most common threats to optimal hearing. Hearing loss is sometimes triggered or exacerbated by a heart attack or stroke, a range of chronic diseases and conditions, and some medications. As a hearing care provider, you have a unique opportunity to learn about the “comorbidities” to hearing loss. Build a referral network that includes physicians in your area, and collaborate with them whenever possible is one way to do this.
Use this network to serve more patients and see an improvement in the level of care offered while adding to your medical expertise. This is no small undertaking. But it can pay dividends for your practice, the patients in your care, and new patients.
Building your referral network will require you to understand how comorbidities affect hearing. Reach out to physicians. Rethink the way you market your services. You may even have to change the way you evaluate patients. Here’s a closer look at each part of the equation.
Understand the Comorbidities to Hearing Loss
A comorbidity is the presence of at least one other disease or disorder in concurrence with a primary disease or disorder. Unfortunately, when it comes to hearing loss, the list of comorbidities is long. It includes:
- Diabetes: The tiny blood vessels in our inner ears are susceptible to rupture when blood glucose levels rise. This puts diabetes sufferers at significant risk of hearing loss.
- Cardiovascular disease: The traumatic effects of a heart attack or stroke include inadequate blood supply and trauma, either of which can trigger hearing loss. A stroke victim also may suffer hearing loss on the affected side of their brain.
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: Hearing loss can exacerbate some of the most debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Patients with untreated hearing loss may demonstrate more rapid cognitive decline and may be at greater risk of an injury-causing fall.
- Kidney disease: The blood supplies that fuel our kidneys and inner ears share similar structural characteristics and immune responses. Patients who suffer from chronic renal disease or have suffered renal failure may also suffer from hearing loss.
- Cancer and chronic pain: Certain medications have been found to put patients at risk for hearing loss. Cisplatin, a common chemotherapy drug, can cause bilateral high- and low-frequency hearing loss. Pain medications such as quinine, salicylates, and naproxen have been known to cause moderate (though typically reversible) hearing loss and tinnitus.
Reach Out to Physicians
Collaborate with your own primary care physician and other doctors you know. Ask whether any of their patients have exhibited hearing loss during treatment. Inform them of the advantages of treating hearing loss early and aggressively. If you are partnering with a health and wellness financing provider such as CareCredit, explain how a financing option benefits patients concerned about the cost of hearing care and devices.
Explain how patients referred to your practice will be treated and how the evaluation process works. Suggest basic questions doctors can use to screen patients for hearing loss or tinnitus, including:
- Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
- Can you hear above background noise and, if so, is this difficult?
- Are you listening to the TV at an unusually high volume?
- Is there a persistent or recurrent ringing in your ears?
Next, ask the physicians you contact what advice they have for you. Learn the symptoms and early warning signs of the conditions they treat. Ask how you should broach the topic of a referral to their office and the amount of information you should relay. Role-play the conversation with a physician you know well.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to refer patients to every physician you meet. This is your referral network, and it will include physicians you like and trust.
Rethink the Way You Reach and Treat Patients
Armed with the knowledge you have gained from meeting with physicians, you may wish to reconsider the patient experience at your offices. If you don’t track how patients were introduced to your practice in the past, now is a good time to start. With a physician’s guidance, start adding questions about comorbidities to your evaluation process.
No matter how new patients find your hearing care practice, educate them about financing options early in the process. There’s no need for anxiety about cost to interfere with treatment. Older patients and patients suffering from additional diseases are more likely to be on a fixed income or be financially strapped.
Hearing care providers partnering with CareCredit have access to educational materials you can add to your website and distribute at your office. They are all provided free of charge to help keep your patients informed and help you secure more business.
Our hearing can be affected by any number of factors. Build a referral network of physicians who treat the common comorbidities to hearing loss. Make sure their patients get the level of care they deserve and you deliver.