As communication disabilities are among the most prevalent handicaps in the world, audiologists are playing a pivotal role in treating the world’s conditions. But whether disabilities fall in the communication category or not, audiologists are contributing to interprofessional health care teams in critical ways, helping treat chronic conditions like diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, dizziness, and ototoxicity. With more than 90 percent of annual health care spending going towards those chronic and mental health conditions, this interprofessional collaboration remains vitally important, paving the way for audiologists to help, alongside a team of health care professionals, treat the world’s worst illnesses. Understanding this importance, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Audiology Advisory Council released a survey in 2018 to measure the role audiologists play in interprofessional collaboration and how they are helping improve the population’s health.
Though hearing loss can reduce the quality of life for patients on its own, it can also be the cause of a more serious ailment. Studies conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that for men with severe hearing loss, the risk of cognitive decline would increase by 42% to 54%, which can lead to early-onset dementia later on in life. Hearing loss and depression are also inextricably linked, in which audiologists can play a vital role in treating the root cause. Conducted by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA), a survey had found that those with untreated hearing loss were at a much higher risk of reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety, stressing the importance of combatting hearing loss related depression with the expertise of an audiologist.
An audiologist’s interprofessional role does not end there, as hearing loss may also be a symptom of a different condition. Hearing loss has been found to be twice as common in those with diabetes in a 2008 study, concluding that diabetes may contribute to hearing loss by damaging nerves and blood vessels.
As hearing loss may be directly linked to conditions that require the expertise of other medical professionals, the interprofessional collaboration between audiologists and the health care community has not only increased in importance but has become a necessity in improving the world’s health.
To enhance engagement in interprofessional activities, ASHA had surveyed 104 members of ASHA’s Advisory Councils, asking participants whether they had engaged in interprofessional collaboration during the past 18 months and what that activity entailed. 69.4% of respondents indicated they had engaged in interprofessional work, with audiologists serving as team members in interprofessional teams most frequently. Respondents were also asked to select out of four core competencies, Values & Ethics; Roles & Responsibilities; Interprofessional Communication; and Teams & Teamwork, in which they engaged the most. Audiologists were found to have engaged in Roles and Responsibilities positions more often than any other competency, displaying the critical role audiologists play in interprofessional teams and treatment plans. Whether hearing loss is a root cause or a symptom of other conditions, audiologists have a vital role to play in working alongside medical experts in other fields to improve the world’s health.