For more than 15 years, Bob Higgins has relied on Jay Underwood, MA, at First Coast Hearing Clinic to evaluate his hearing loss and recommend the hearing aids that keep him connected to an active life.
Bob is 81 and a retired electrical engineer in Ponte Verda. He bikes nearly every day, swims, stays socially active and likes to travel. Meeting a friend for coffee or in a noisy restaurant can put him in difficult listening environments. His hearing aids make it possible for him to thoroughly enjoy the conversations wherever he is.
Originally from New Jersey, Bob moved to Florida after he and his wife discovered the beach at Ponte Verda. As self-described beach people, they wanted sand in their toes.
Bob didn’t expect his hearing to decline by his 60s, but wasn’t surprised when it did. His parents, and others in his family, had experienced age-related hearing loss.
He drives about 45 minutes, one way, to see Mr. Underwood at First Coast Hearing Clinic in St. Augustine. Years ago, he tried another hearing care provider who was closer, but the experience wasn’t a good one.
“Mr. Underwood was originally near me, and that’s when I first went to see him. When Mr. Underwood relocated, I went to someone else nearby. That guy tried to take advantage of me, frankly, and get money for something he shouldn’t have,” recalls Bob.
The incident convinced Bob to stick with a hearing care provider he can trust. He counts on Mr. Underwood and the highly skilled team at First Coast Hearing Clinic for excellent service and advanced knowledge about today’s hearing aids.
“Mr. Underwood goes the extra mile to make sure everything is right,” says Bob.
Hearing every word
As an engineer, Bob is attentive to technology. He gets a new pair of hearing aids about every four years to take advantage of advancements.
Recently, he got new hearing aids at First Coast Hearing Clinic that have proved to be exceptional.
During a recent trip to Washington, DC, he visited the National Gallery of Art. The gallery has marble floors and high ceilings that make sounds echo. There is a constant flow of chatty visitors and tour groups. The combination creates a harshness of background noise.
Bob joined a tour and stood at the back because he is tall. The difficult acoustics and distance from the tour guide didn’t faze him.
“If I didn’t have hearing aids, I wouldn’t have caught anything the tour guide said,” notes Bob. “With my older hearing aids, I probably would have caught half of it. With my new hearing aids, I heard every word. They are everything I’ve ever wanted from a hearing aid.”
Listening to patients
Bob’s experience is an example of how audiologists at First Coast Hearing Clinic work with individuals to meet their specific needs.
First Coast Hearing Clinic, with offices in St. Augustine and Palm Coast, is a founding partner of Audigy Group, LLC, the largest member-owned organization in the hearing care industry. It provides care consistent with Audigy’s core values for ensuring that hearing aids fit the patient’s lifestyle, needs and budget.
While some practices start by focusing on a specific technology during the first office visit, audiologists at First Coast Hearing Clinic offer a much more personalized approach.
First appointments are 90 minutes in length, where the audiologist learns about the person’s “hearing lifestyle,” expectations and needs through Audigy’s four-step process. A key component is listening to the patient. The goal is to find solutions that address overall lifestyle and not simply how the patient responds in a hearing test.
“The Audigy four-step process is tried and true and results in a high level of patient satisfaction,” notes Karen Kibbe, AuD, an audiologist at First Coast Hearing Clinic.
“We strive for excellence in hearing health care, and we do believe that distinguishes us from other centers where the focus might start with the technology and how much it costs instead of taking the time and care to individualize the treatment plan for each patient.”
A unique aspect at First Coast Hearing Clinic is Audigy’s ePatient, a treatment-focused software tool and computerized slideshow used during evaluations. Through ePatient, patients can understand their hearing and treatment options in layman’s terms. At the end of the appointment, they receive a printout to take home and review.
“ePatient offers an overview of what’s going to happen during the appointment, as well as explaining how someone’s hearing works,” notes Mr. Underwood. “Many patients ask, What kind of hearing loss do I have? If I just tell them, You have sensorineural hearing loss, they won’t understand what that means. But with ePatient, we can actually show them the anatomy of the ear and say, This is what’s going on with your hearing.”
The first step of the evaluation includes learning precisely what patients are hearing, what they aren’t hearing and what they most want to hear. Audiologists also ask how often patients must confront frequent background noise.
“We’re taking the time to discover what their listening world is like, which will help us recommend the appropriate level of technology in a hearing aid,” notes Dr. Kibbe.
“Step two is a physical exam of the ears to make sure there’s no wax or obstruction that would affect our hearing test results,” she continues. “We also look for anything that’s medically treatable and requires a referral to a physician.”
The next step is a hearing test that evaluates the auditory system, including hearing tones and pitches and how well the patient can understand words. The fourth step is treatment, when the audiologist recommends solutions that will reconnect patients to what is most important to them through improved hearing.
“We also go over the results in terms the patient can understand,” explains Dr. Kibbe. “We talk about where strengths and weaknesses are in their auditory system and how those relate back to the frustrations they’re having in communicating.”
The amount of time Dr. Kibbe is able to spend with patients at First Coast Hearing Clinic is very gratifying for her.
“I like what I’m doing so much better than being asked to make the treatment decisions for patients in, say, a busy ear, nose and throat clinic, while under pressure to see a patient in thirty minutes and go on to the next,” she shares.
“As one of my colleagues said, Hearing is as individual as a fingerprint. Patients have different circumstances and needs. It’s why we spend the time we do for that first evaluation.”
Service to count on
After hearing aids are prescribed, treatment doesn’t stop there. Return appointments are scheduled during a rehabilitation period of about ten weeks, where a patient’s hearing aids can be adjusted based on how they are performing in various environments.
“Hearing aids are so digitally programmable now that in the hands of an experienced professional, there should be no reason why we can’t get to the place where the patient says, Wow! I’m really glad I did this. I can’t believe I waited so long to get hearing aids,” notes Dr. Kibbe.
For Bob, the service and professionalism that he experiences at First Coast Hearing Clinic are what keep him coming back. He appreciates the educational approach of its audiologists and how they care for the well-being of their patients. In particular, he is thankful to Mr. Underwood for keeping him abreast of new hearing aid technology and providing hearing aids that continue to show advancements.
“Even though First Coast Hearing Clinic happens to be a long drive from my home, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. Mr. Underwood does everything for me, and I can rely on him if I ever have a problem,” states Bob. “Mr. Underwood is a great guy and very knowledgeable. When you can find someone like that, you stick with him.”