"You Can Lead a Horse to Water …": Focus Group Perspectives on Initiating and Supporting Hearing Health Change in Older Adults.
The public health challenge of hearing impairment is growing, as age is the major determinant of hearing loss. Almost one in four (22.6%) over 75-year olds reports moderate or severe worry because of hearing problems. There is a 40% comorbidity of tinnitus and balance disorders. Good outcomes depend on early presentation and appropriate referral. This paper describes how the NHS Improvement Programme in England used service improvement methodologies to identify referral pathways and tools which were most likely to make significant improvements in diagnosing hearing loss, effective referrals and better patient outcomes. An audiometric screening device was used in GP surgeries to enable thresholds for effective referrals to be measured in the surgery. Revised referral criteria, the use of this device, new "assess and fit" technology in the audiology clinic, and direct access pathways can transform audiology service delivery so that patient outcomes are measurably better. This, in turn, changes the experience of GPs, so they are more likely to refer patients who can benefit from treatment. At the end of 2011, 51 GP practices in one of the audiology pilot areas had bought HearCheck screeners, a substantial development from the 4 practices who first engaged with the pilot.