Hearing loss patients at higher risk of hospital readmission

Hearing Loss Patients At Higher Risk Of Hospital Readmission

In hearing health, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

When people with untreated hearing loss enter the hospital, the stakes can be unusually high. A recent New York University study has found that patients with unaddressed hearing loss were far more likely to be readmitted into the hospital within a month of their initial discharge than patients with normal hearing. This gap in health outcomes is part of the toll hearing loss can extract on personal wellness and hospital readmissions increase costs for both patients and hospitals. 

Looking at the root of these readmissions, we see that hearing loss impairs a person’s ability to communicate. In many everyday situations, this decreased comprehension may only have minor consequences. However, in more serious situations, like receiving medical instructions, the ability to communicate is far more critical. When vital information is being conveyed it is important to ensure patient comprehension. 

Communication At the Core

Untreated hearing loss limits quality of life in many ways. It has been shown to be a factor in depression anxiety and social isolation, as well as reducing earning power and mobility. Behind all of this is the profound effect hearing loss can have on our communication skills when it is left unaddressed. 

Being unable to properly understand a person’s speech can create distance with friends and family, problems at work or school and, as we are seeing, can create misunderstandings that have grave consequences for personal health. When verbal medical instructions are given and not properly comprehended, the likelihood of mistakes and omissions expands.

Research Findings

The New York University study looked at 4,436 adults aged 65 and over. Patients in this demographic have higher rates of hearing difficulty, often a combination of age-related hearing loss and noise-related hearing loss. By age 65 around one in every three adults lives with some degree of hearing loss. By age 75 that statistic jumps to about one in every two adults and at age 90 roughly 9 out of 10 people have significant hearing loss. 

The research compared subjects who self-reported having trouble communicating with their medical providers and tracked rates of hospital readmission. Out of the total sample, around 12% of participants reported communication difficulty. When communication was an issue, patients were readmitted for treatment within 30 days at a rate 32% greater than those who left their initial hospital stay without communication concerns, solidifying a link between initial comprehension and health outcome.

A Lesson For Hospitals

This new research could be a wake up call for hospitals to better understand and accommodate the challenges inherent to communication for those with hearing loss. Going over medical findings, courses of treatment and advice for follow up care needs to be handled in ways in which those with hearing loss can still access and absorb the information. Sending patients off without adequate comprehension is resulting in a significant likelihood of return visits and does not encourage healing. 

Recognizing the frequency of hearing loss and having information available in other formats such as written instruction or visual models is important for proper adherence to medical advice and a better overall patient experience.

Protecting Yourself

Multiple trips to the hospital are no fun for anyone, least of all the patient. It is important for patients with hearing loss to recognize that communication problems with their doctor can have serious  health consequences. Whenever you see your doctor, visit the hospital or otherwise require medical care, make comprehension your priority. If understanding speech is difficult for you, make your challenges known and ask for information in a format easier to understand, such as written out instructions about your visit, follow-up care, recommendations and special instructions for any medication.

For those living with hearing loss, communication challenges can arise at any moment. While most hearing loss can’t be repaired, it can be effectively managed with hearing aids. Hearing aids improve your comprehension, quality of life and lessen many of the health risks associated with untreated hearing loss. Using hearing aids can help you access more of the world, whether that means staying close to your best friend, or getting the most out of your medical care. 

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