In one of the largest studies of its kind, researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health determined that people with untreated hearing loss incur significantly higher healthcare costs than people without hearing loss. With an average of 46%, or $22,434 per person, more spent on healthcare over ten years, these findings are not only noteworthy but should garner further attention and care for those with hearing loss in healthcare settings.
Why are there higher healthcare costs?
The researchers stated the study includes those with untreated hearing loss, this means without the use of hearing aids. They also note that the average cost of hearing services during this ten year time period was merely $600. This is stated to understand that the costs of hearing health is not the major driver of these differences. Then what is?
The study is careful to say that the why is unknown. This study did not focus on the cause of this difference, instead showing the correlation between untreated hearing loss and higher healthcare costs. However, with this information, we can begin to look at the how’s and why’s in order to try to improve healthcare for those with untreated hearing loss.
- Communication– Maybe one of the more intuitive explanations is the gap in communication. Healthcare between a provider and patient requires clear communication. When a patient is unable to hear or understand their treatment plan, compliance with that plan becomes impaired as well.
- Reluctance– Another possible contributor to the higher healthcare costs is reluctance on the part of the patient. When hearing and understanding is made more challenging by hearing loss, patients may avoid putting themselves in positions where they feel frustrated. It is a noted sign of hearing loss when people begin to avoid conversations, loud settings, or even isolate themselves when those conversations become harder to hear. If this crosses over into healthcare, then conditions may go unchecked or undiscovered leading to higher costs eventually to treat.
- Correlation to other conditions- There are documented links between untreated hearing loss and dementia, cognitive decline, depression, and falls. Again, the cause of this link is unknown but regardless of the why, the connection between untreated hearing loss and other conditions is one we can’t ignore when trying to gain a better understanding.
Possible steps to reduce healthcare costs
Without an exact cause, it is difficult to correct the variance in healthcare costs. With that being said, there are steps that healthcare providers can take to make sure people with hearing loss or communication disabilities have equal access to health information.
- Speak clearly– When communicating with a person who has hearing loss is it important to speak clearly without yelling or over-enunciating. Also make sure your environment is well-lit and that you are speaking face to face.
- Signage- Whether in the patient’s chart or sign on the door, there should be a way to communicate to the entire healthcare team that the patient has hearing loss and that the appropriate communication techniques should be utilized.
- Written instructions– Providing written instructions at discharge could help with compliance at home and possibly reduce the need for immediate readmissions in the hospital. A healthcare provider should still discuss the treatment plan with the patient however having written instructions to follow is important as well.
- Reduce background noise- When speaking with someone who has hearing loss reducing background noise is paramount. Close the door to the room, turn down the TV, and ask anyone else in the room to be silent while discussing care with the patient.
- Notice communication difficulties– If a healthcare provider notices any difficulty understanding on the patient’s part they should both clarify the plan of care using the steps outlined above as well as ask about the patient’s hearing health. A patient may not have the resources to find a hearing health professional, so providing a referral with a scheduled appointment can be useful.
Ultimately, the results of this study make it clear that hearing health is a vital part of overall healthcare. If you are experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss or suspect you have changes to your hearing, speak to an audiologist or hearing health provider as soon as possible.