June 16, 2017

I Can Hear You Now: Clinic Provides Free Hearing Aids for Low-Income Adults

How a new Ann Arbor program helps those with hearing loss - and provides a blueprint other academic medical centers may follow. 

by Lauren Love
 

Low-income people dealing with hearing loss just got a little hope.

Doctors from Michigan Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery partnered with the Hope Clinic to create Hope for Hearing, a program that provides free hearing aids to uninsured adults.

The partnership between the free independent clinic and University of Michigan started in 2010 to provide Hope Clinic patients with access to specialty care.

“We saw there was a need for hearing aids,” says Aileen P. Wertz, M.D., a fifth-year resident in otolaryngology who also sees patients at the Hope Clinic. “Over half of the patients referred to us with ear complaints had hearing loss and could simply benefit from a hearing aid.”

After recognizing the need, Wertz and her colleagues looked to design a self-sufficient subspecialty program within the clinic that could act as a model for similar projects.

They began by soliciting hearing aid donations and a hearing aid verification system and securing a $5,000 grant for a computer enabled with audiological software and other equipment.

Primary care providers then referred adults with hearing complaints to the program.

Patients went through an initial assessment that included a formal audiogram and screening evaluation. If the audiometric test suggested a significant hearing loss and the otolaryngologist determined that a patient was medically cleared for hearing aids, the patient was referred to audiologists for hearing aid counseling and fitting.

In a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery, Wertz and her colleagues examined the feasibility and outcomes of the program.

“During the study period — September 2013 through March 2016 — we garnered 84 hearing aids, and most of them were donated,” says Wertz. “Thirty-four patients were determined to be eligible for the free program and were offered hearing aid services. Of them, 20 patients (59 percent) have been fitted or are being fitted with free hearing aids.”

 

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