Finding Patients’ Stories to Pinpoint the Right Treatment

ASHA-certified audiologist Julie Martinez Verhoff says a team approach helps her get to know patients and find the right treatment for each

Julie Martinez Verhoff thinks of herself as not just an audiologist, but also a listener and a coaxer of stories.

“All of the kids I work with have some story,” says Julie, who in March 2017 became director of pediatric audiology at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. “No child just has hearing loss.”

Stories, in other words, give a picture of the whole child. And understanding a child’s story, Julie says, requires multiple points of view. Previously, she was director of audiology at The River School in Washington, D.C., an infant through third grade independent school that includes children with hearing loss in every classroom. In that role, Julie served on a team of occupational therapists, audiologists, speech language pathologists, educators and psychologists.

“I’m not sure I could have done my job unless we had each other and each other’s expertise,” she says. “If I worked with a parent and heard something that sounded like a red flag, I could walk down the hall and talk to someone about it. I rely on getting second opinions from professionals who know more about a subject than I do.”

For each child with hearing and language disabilities, Julie and her team pieced together a narrative that enabled them to ensure students got exactly the treatment they needed, with parents actively engaged in the process.

Bundle of Issues

One 18-month-old child had difficulty with balance, speech and language development because of hearing loss caused by meningitis. Julie and her team knew immediately where to start. They observed how the child interacted with the surrounding world through each of the five senses. Then they observed, tested and treated the child to improve function and performance.

They came away with a story whose progression toward a solution involved the whole family. The parents soon enrolled in a 16-week parent-child interaction therapy course, in which psychologists coach parents on communicating with their kids. Because parents who have children with disabilities tend to treat and talk to them differently, it’s important to help guide those relationships and that language and support the family as best as possible, Julie says.

A Wrong Fit Righted

Another child, four years old at the time, wore a loaner hearing aid that didn’t work consistently — and that she didn’t want to wear. The child’s mother said she tried to get attention in dangerous ways, like unbuckling the car seat belt and running onto the road. The family’s finances were tight, which explained why the hearing aid was on loan and hadn’t been replaced. Furthermore, the parents were overwhelmed and the mother needed support and guidance.

Julie and her team devised a solution that combined tactics for managing the girl’s behavior and helping her hear consistently. Drawing on each person’s expertise, Julie managed to weave together a care approach that more properly framed the child’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

“Every story is important,” Julie says. “And every story can have a happy resolution that sets children and families up for a positive future.”