Why would an audiologist want to develop a tinnitus specialty?
The world of audiology is changing, from healthcare benefits and insurance to advances in hearing aid technology. Whether it’s developing a specialty in tinnitus or another area, it makes sense to keep up with the changes and continually adapt to the needs of the market while challenging oneself professionally.
The reality is that tinnitus is a needed, growing specialty. Globally, tinnitus affects an estimated 10-15 percent of the population. In the United States alone, more than 50 million people suffer from the condition. As the population continues to age, more people will experience tinnitus symptoms in combination with hearing loss; it is estimated that up to 80 percent of tinnitus sufferers also have some form of hearing loss. And more than a third of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the condition.
Physicians – both primary care and otolaryngologists (ENTs) – need trusted resources to whom to refer the increasing number of patients they see with tinnitus. They often don’t know how best to help these patients and do not have expertise in tinnitus, leaving a void. You can differentiate yourself and your practice from others in your area by positioning yourself as the tinnitus expert.
A tinnitus specialty can serve as a marketing tool in itself, too. Patients often are more apt to come in to your office to talk about a “ringing in the ears” than they are hearing loss, as the latter can imply aging. More people coming into your practice opens up the door – literally – for more variety in your practice. You’ll find that many people really do require a hearing aid for hearing loss, while others do need specific help for tinnitus.
One of the best reasons to develop a tinnitus specialty, however, is that today, a trained audiologist can truly make a difference in a tinnitus patient’s symptoms and improve his or her overall quality of life. Today, a range of devices and treatments have emerged that offer real relief. Neuromonics, for example, has pioneered the use of relaxing music embedded with a neural stimulus that interacts with the tinnitus perception. The music engages the auditory pathways to promote neural plastic changes. Over time, these changes help the brain to filter out the tinnitus perception, reducing tinnitus disturbance and providing long-term relief from symptoms. Other offerings work in different ways. The bottom line is that audiologists can make a real difference in a patient’s life.