December 11, 2019. A few weeks ago, we were invited by Health PEI to attend a Strategic Planning Session, for consultations with community groups, Islanders, patient advisors/partners, staff and physicians. The purpose of the consultations, which were attended by Annie Lee MacDonald and myself, is to build a three‐year strategic plan for the priorities for Health PEI’s program and service development for the years 2020‐2023.
A variety of groups participated, with people from different Health PEI departments. We were told that the strategic planning session ‘helps assess and adjust direction in a changing environment’. The current Health Plan expires on March 31, 2020 and among the factors to consider were trends in health and current practices.
We were broken up into groups for brainstorming sessions, and each group had a similar set of messages for Health PEI:
- Better diagnosis and education is needed for specific medical conditions. We gave the example of how hearing loss can be misdiagnosed for other conditions, such as dementia, and how not addressing hearing loss can lead to other physical and mental conditions.
- Initiatives for awareness sessions and education on specific conditions need to be provided to health providers, such as professional development credits offered by Health PEI, which may encourage a higher level of participation. We gave the example of the work done in improving communications in the legal community here on PEI and referenced our YouTube videos.
- There need to be ‘champions’ in the system for various medical conditions.
- Help equip patients to self-manage their condition.
- Better navigation of available services is needed and patients with conditions need to increase their awareness. In other words, self-knowledge is important. Every resident of Prince Edward Island is able to have a hearing test, paid by Health PEI, if the patient is referred by a physician or nurse practitioner.
- The current ‘silo’ approach of treating conditions needs to be changed to one where a person is seen as the sum total of their various medical conditions. We explained that people with any condition can also have hearing loss. Without the ability to communicate effectively and hear what is being said, the various programs put in place will not bring the desired results.
- Rural health care is a priority for Islanders, who do not want or cannot travel distances to see a primary care provider. Travel costs, access to travel for many people who are unable to travel by themselves, the time people need to take to bring someone to a health care provider…. all were points referenced over and over again. Primary care needs to be local, was the consistent message made to Health PEI.
In the general discussions we noted that hearing loss is growing in prevalence. According to the World Health Organization, it is the 4th leading cause of living with disability globally! In Canada, it is the 3rd most chronic condition, after arthritis and hypertension (high blood pressure). It affects young and old, any income group, and people with other conditions. Yet, for some reason, it is the ignored elephant in the room with medical personnel, mostly ignored or brushed off!
Health care settings, such as hospitals, are difficult places to hear due to constant noise – alarms beep, sound insulation in rooms is poor, there are competing conversations if you are not in a private room. Many patients refuse to use earplugs when they watch TV in a hospital, adding to noise levels. (See “Doctors with pocket talkers, lawyers with pocket talkers”)
Miscommunication can be problematic, affecting care and understanding by patients of conditions and treatments. We explained that contractions as used in every day speech can be a nightmare. It’s difficult to distinguish between ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ as an example. Accents can be hard to understand at first. Many healthcare providers speak too quickly, not giving time for our brains to process what is being said. Others speak too softly, or face a laptop instead of the patients, making it seem like they are mumbling. We explained that people with hearing loss use speech reading to help figure out what is being said, whether they have taken a formal class or not, and so they need to SEE the person who is talking.
We noted that hearing loss can lead to other conditions if not addressed. We gave the example of people tending to isolate themselves when hearing becomes a challenge. It becomes a pain to comprehend what is being said, particularly in group situations, such as weddings, parties, etc. (See Holiday Dinners and Parties – Fun or a Nightmare? for some of the comments that have been made about holiday get-togethers.) Social isolation leads to mental health conditions such as depression. People tend to be at increased risk for falls. A question asked every time you go to a clinic or hospital is “Have you fallen recently?” Why not a question about hearing loss? we asked. Increasingly, studies are showing that if hearing loss is not addressed, there is an increased risk of dementia.
We concluded by pointing out that mental health, fall risks, depression, and dementia are all issues of concern to Health PEI. Wouldn’t addressing hearing loss help in preventing these issues becoming a concern for many Islanders?
There were nods of agreement and acknowledge all around the tables, but did the message get through? A recent survey sent as a follow-up doesn’t seem to indicate that anyone was really paying attention. So now, it’s YOUR turn to try and get Health PEI to listen…..
The follow-up to the consultations, which gives YOU a chance to participate:
We did our best to have Health PEI incorporate hearing accessibility into the planning and now have now received a survey to be distributed to Islanders with hearing loss and their family members. Please don’t ignore this opportunity to draw attention to the needs of those with hearing loss in improving communications with our health providers, but to add your voice and opinion by filling out this short survey.
One key message suggested to include is: “A person’s ability to communicate is #1. We need to be able to hear and comprehend a medical professional. Better hearing accessibility is crucial. Please pay attention to hearing loss and ask for advice in how to communicate with us.” If you may have more messaging ideas, please share them, so that we can include them in the next round of consultations.
For those in the South Shore area, who are without a doctor, this is also your opportunity to say you want a health centre in rural areas, such as Crapaud.
You will see in the questionnaire that there are some suggestions made for priorities, but hearing accessibility is NOT one of them. Did you know that according to current research, for every person who needs a wheelchair ramp, there are 29 people who need better hearing accessibility in public places? And this figure is growing!
The questionnaire can be submitted anonymously, if you wish. You do not need to provide your name, age or gender; however, you will need to enter your postal code which will let Health PEI know your general geographic location. The survey will be open until December 29, 2019.
Here is the link to the survey: www.healthpei.ca/StrategicPlanFeedback
If you prefer to fill out a paper copy, please see health_pei_strategic_planning_public_consultation_2020-23_form. You can download it, print it, fill it out, and return it to one of the health centres identified on page 2.
If you know someone who would like to fill out the survey, but does not have email, please do an act of kindness and print out a copy for the person and bring it to them to fill out.
As always, you can send an email to email@example.com, comment on the blog, and send a tweet to @HearPEI.
© Daria Valkenburg