Relating to Patients in the Real World

I was born at the leading edge of the baby boomers which puts me very close to the average age of our first-time hearing aid patients. It is my real-world experience, and I thought by virtue of the fact that we had lived through Vietnam, Woodstock, and Watergate together, I related to them pretty well.  I had an experience recently that taught me something more about myself and may give me additional insight.

I grew up in Southern California. I inherited a genetic profile that left me with a fair complexion that burns whenever I spend too much time at the beach or in the snow. It took me a long time to learn that sunburns can lead to skin cancer. For the past 15 years I’ve had the occasional basal or squamous cell cancer removed with very little impact on my life. A little surgery, a clear lab report, and I’m back to the same person I was. I was a little concerned this year when the dermatologist called to say that one spot was identified as a melanoma, but the treatment was the same as all the others, and I put myself back into the mindset that nothing had changed. Following the melanoma, I went back to UCLA to donate blood as I often do. I was rejected! A history of melanoma puts me outside the acceptable criteria as a blood donor for UCLA. It was a shock to be rejected and started me thinking in a different way about my life, which led me to think a little deeper about how patients I see might be thinking about their hearing loss. My rejection simply reminded me that not only was I approaching the official Medicare retirement age (I’m rejecting that concept) plus things were changing with my health that I didn’t have control over.

I try to be sensitive when I discuss hearing loss with a patient, but I don’t think much about where their thoughts are. I move ahead in a straightforward manner. This recent experience will change that up for me a bit. I think I’ll try and uncover not only their needs, but how they feel about. My responses and recommendations might be better tailored to them if I better understand their hearing loss, their lifestyle and how it affects their thinking about themselves. A small step, but will allow me to relate to them better. It can’t be a bad thing.

By Dennis Van Vliet

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