“Engineer and musician” – three words that strike fear into the hearts of audiologists everywhere when listed on the “occupation” line of a patient information form. These patients often consume massive appointment time, due to their technical knowledge and expectation for the benefits derived from hearing aids. My personal experience, however, was altered many years ago by Les Paul, the inventor and musician who provided many innovations including the solid body electric guitar and many recording techniques (e.g. overdubbing, delay effects and multi-track recording). I had the opportunity to work with him clinically prior to his death several years ago and found him to be a fascinating and engaging patient with uncompromising standards for optimizing hearing aid sound quality with speech and music. He relentlessly pursued the opportunity (to no avail) to “borrow” the programming hardware/software from me so he could self-adjust his hearing aids.
Finally, in a weak moment around seven or eight years ago, I agreed to loan him the equipment for a very short time, with the understanding that he could only use the devices in his home until I verified that gain/output were not set inappropriately for his loss after adjustment. He agreed, and then something remarkable happened: less than a week later he sent them back. During our next visit, Les related that although he enjoyed our interactions very much, he always wondered in the back of his mind whether he could use his musical/technical experience to improve the fit. Immediately after receiving the programming hardware/software, he experimented late into the evening, trying every combination possible with minimal success. For the first time, he understood that although he knew what he wanted to hear, even the best technology could only overcome so much. This realization would not have been possible without the opportunity to directly engage with the fitting software, and in turn, it ultimately changed his mindset regarding my ability and his hearing aids (although he never gave up on the idea of a hearing aid optimized specifically for music). In the process, my willingness to give up control to him allowed him to move beyond patient “satisfaction” to patient “delight.”
Sadly, I never had the opportunity to try SoundPoint with Les. Although he had the technical acumen to adjust gain and output with great precision, many other patients do not. As long as significant safeguards are in place to restrict the range of adjustment to “safe” levels of gain and output, patient optimization tools that increase patient engagement actually may strengthen the bond between patient and clinician – not weaken it. So, the next time you see a challenging patient for an initial or follow-up fitting, try SoundPoint. The data suggest that engaged patients are more likely to be delighted, and delighted patients are in turn more likely to refer/recommend your services to their friends.