Most doctors enter the medical field because they want to help others. For Dr. Joseph Hart, the reason is more personal. When Joe Hart, his uncle and a physician himself, died of cancer of the tongue, it had a profound impact on him.

“That’s what motivated my brother and I to specialize in ENT (ear, nose and throat),” says Dr. Hart. “We deal with anything from the clavicle up, in newborns to the very elderly.”

Dr. Hart is one of Cedar Valley Medical Specialists’ two otolaryngologists. He is located at United Medical Park on West Ridgeway Avenue in Waterloo. Dr. Hart is a general otolaryngologist and his Cedar Valley Ear, Nose & Throat and Hearing Care offices perform sinus surgery; treat pediatric ear, nose and throat patients; and treat hearing loss, nasal obstructions, chronic sinusitis, tonsils and adenoids, snoring and sleep apnea — in addition to treating such simple ailments as ear infections, sore throats and ears that need cleaning, and assisting patients with hearing aid fittings.

“We deal with a lot of chronic problems,” Dr. Hart explains. “We also deal with acute conditions, which means they appear all of a sudden. We see patients who might have a problem for a very long period of time or lifelong concerns. A significant condition we see a lot of in Iowa is hearing loss.”

Dr. Hart is very active at the national level through the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). “My main effort was more patient advocacy when the state of Iowa presented a challenge for some insurers and physicians,” he explains. “That’s when I got involved, because those challenges can make physicians not want to practice in Iowa. So I got involved, first at the local level with both hospitals. I’m also a former state society president for ENT and a former board member of the Iowa Medical Society.”

He’s currently a consultant to the AAO-HNS’s Board of Governors Governance & Society Engagement Committee. He’s appeared on Capitol Hill in the last 15 years advocating for patients and easier access to the health -care system.

“I’ve had electronic medical record-keeping since I’ve been here (beginning 20 years ago),” Dr. Hart says. “That experience has made us somewhat more savvy, which is an advantage in our practice because it’s now such a huge part of our day-to-day environment. Technology is always changing. Instrumentation is constantly being updated in order to perform procedures more effectively. Some can even be less invasive than they were previously.”

With a shortage of ENTs practicing in the state, the Cedar Valley is fortunate. “You should be able to access us and be able to have the vast majority of your needs met locally,” he says. “We are well-trained, have a lot of experience and we love our community.”

Cedar Valley Hearing Care

Hearing affects how we relate to our family and friends, how we perform our jobs, how we are able to lead productive lives and how we maintain our health through social connections.

Audiologists are trained to diagnose, manage and treat hearing and balance problems for persons of all ages. Stacy Wolf, AuD, can be found in the Cedar Valley Ear, Nose & Throat and Hearing Care offices of Dr. Joseph Hart. Wolf performs comprehensive diagnostic hearing and middle ear evaluations, and also performs specialized otoacoustic emissions testing on newborns.

In addition to helping adults with hearing loss, she also sees a lot of children with middle ear fluid or infections. Some types of hearing loss can be treated medically or surgically by Dr. Hart, so it is important that these types of hearing losses be ruled out before hearing aids are considered.

“Hearing aids have changed dramatically even from when I began practicing 19 years ago,” Wolf says. “Now they are more discreet in appearance, they are very comfortable and are very sensitive in adjusting to the patient’s listening needs. The biggest component of recent technological advances is that hearing aids can have wireless/Bluetooth connectivity."

Newer hearing aids can be streamed to televisions, tablets, and computers. “Patients can be more satisfied in more challenging listening environments. They can have options for making adjustments to their hearing aids using their cell phones.” Phones can be turned into remote controls and adjusted for volume, used to change programs or even locate a misplaced hearing aid. Phones can also be turned into mini-microphones and placed in the middle of the table during a meeting; they pick up the voice and route it directly to the hearing aids.

“Hearing aids aren’t perfect, they don’t restore normal hearing, but with these assistive devices you can really improve the quality of conversation,” Wolf says.

According to several research studies by Johns Hopkins University, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease compared to their normal-hearing peers. “Hearing enriches relationships and connects you to the world. Your ears and brain work together as a system. Hearing plays a vital role in brain health,” Wolf says. “A key in treating hearing loss is the patient’s motivation to do something about it. If he or she waits too long, it’s more difficult for the brain to adapt to a hearing device.”

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