July 13, 2023

Hearing Loss in Patients Does Not Affect Hospitalization Readmission Rates, According to Family Medicine Research

While the study found no differences in readmissions between patients with and without hearing loss, substantial communication challenges persist.

A new study by researchers in the Department of Family Medicine has found that, contrary to preliminary evidence published elsewhere, patients with hearing loss do not experience higher rates of hospital readmissions.  However, they often face substantial communication challenges when interacting with healthcare providers. Moreover, a high percentage of hospitalized patients had hearing loss.  The study, “The Association of Hearing Loss with Hospitalization”, was recently published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

As the second most prevalent disability in America, hearing loss can exacerbate health outcomes and cognitive decline, particularly among older patients. The new findings underscore the importance of doctor-patient communication, which could enhance long-term health outcomes.

Philip Zazove headshot. White man with short brown hair wearing a physician's white coat.
Professor Emeritus Philip Zazove, MD, and the study's first author

In a comprehensive analysis of 1,247 patients across two large healthcare networks in southeast Michigan, the researchers found 76.8% of patients had documented hearing loss. Patients with hearing loss  were more likely to be older, non-Hispanic, white, male, less educated and with lower health literacy. They also had more comorbidities, had trouble communicating with their doctors and filling out medical forms.

Despite these challenges, readmission rates were similar between patients with hearing loss (n=328) and those without hearing loss (n=289) for both 30-day and 90-day readmissions. This finding remained consistent even after researchers adjusted their model to accommodate for hearing loss severity.

The researchers note that their findings contradict existing literature.

“Our prospective study findings of no differences in hospital readmission rate contrast those published from retrospective studies (published) earlier,” the authors wrote. “Similarly, there was no impact of hearing loss with survival rates.”

The authors recommend further studies to understand the implications that communication barriers between the patient and doctor have on longer-term health outcomes, including hospitalization rates. Additionally, they encourage both physicians and patients to proactively discuss hearing loss concerns during appointments. This approach, they argue, may help combat commonly held patient perceptions that hearing loss is an uncomfortable subject or a nuisance to the physician.

“This study provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by older patients with hearing loss within the healthcare system; highlights that a majority of hospitalized patients are likely to have hearing loss; and emphasizes the importance of addressing these challenges to ensure equitable and effective healthcare delivery for all individuals, regardless of their hearing abilities,” the authors conclude.

Article citation:

Zazove, P., Plegue, M. A., Mulhem, E., Panzer, K., Ratakonda, S., Sen, A., Greenberg, J., McEvoy, A., Kileny, P. R., & McKee, M. M. (2023). The association of hearing loss with hospitalization. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 36(3), 439–448. https://doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2022.220407r1