Now hear this

Listening really matters

Illustration of people floating in a space surrounded by sound, by Rich Tu

Listening is something we often do without thinking, but it’s not something to be taken for granted. 

For a physician, listening to patients’ histories, concerns and goals is central to the craft, yet time to really tune in has become a precious commodity. For a person whose hearing is failing, the loss represents dwindling pleasures, connections and independence. The change can lead to depression and raises the risk of other health problems.

Helen Keller, though both blind and deaf, identified deafness as the worse misfortune: “For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

So, in this issue of Stanford Medicine, we seriously consider listening as well as the kindred topics of hearing, sound and simply paying attention. Read on to learn about efforts to hone the communication skills that are at the heart of health care, reasons to expect a revolution in hearing loss treatments, computer programs that listen in ways humans can’t — and more.