Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Can Telehealth Expand Hearing Healthcare?

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People sometimes wonder why hearing aids aren't as easy and inexpensive to pick up as reading glasses. The truth is hearing aids aren't the same as glasses, but this does raise an interesting question. Is there a way to make it less expensive and easier for people who can't get help for their hearing loss due to cost, distance, and time? Telehealth--the use of electronic information, video, and computer technology (like remote programming) to treat people at home--might be the answer to expanding hearing healthcare.

Again and again we hear people saying hearing aids should be available over the counter, just as reading glasses are. There is even a recent bipartisan bill introduced to extend availability of over-the-counter hearing devices. Many hearing health professionals worry this might impact people's hearing health and safety. They point out that hearing aids aren't glasses. They are tiny computers that process a myriad of sounds and must work with the environment, movement of the user, the patient's brain, and the patients' sound preferences. In addition, they are often measured to fit a patient's outer ear or inner ear canal. The problem as summed up by ASHA, " Even if people have greater access to hearing devices, we can’t expect them to know how to use them correctly without professional guidance."

The other side of this argument is that there are a lot of people out there who want help for their hearing loss, but don't have time, access, or fear "wasting" money on a device they might not use or even understand. To them buying something cheap that might help is better than taking a chance on something better that requires a greater commitment and travel time.

If someone can't or won't get help for their hearing loss due to the reasons above, then a solution needs to be found. And there actually is a solution that can help people receive appropriate guidance and adequate treatment. One that can save money, time, empower patients with hearing loss, and expand hearing aid use around the world.

Telehealth is a mobile health service that allows people with hearing loss to be tested and treated via computer and video technology. According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, "Telehealth encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services."

But how much of a difference can using telehealth or teleaudiology make in hearing healthcare? Well, below is a list of ways that telehealth has been shown to benefit those with hearing loss.

Time- According to the National Academy of Science, the use of telehealth or teleaudiology decreased patients wait times from nearly 50 minutes to less than ten minutes. In addition to wait time there is a decrease in travel time. It is estimated that in 2012 telehealth saved patient's almost 3 million millions of driving time. That's a lot of saved time!

Money-According to the National Academy of Science telehealth saved people 8.3 million dollars in 2012 and over 37 million dollars since 2003. In addition to these savings, patients can be offered saving from a hearing health professionals because of lowered overhead and an increase in revenue from an expanded practice. Hearing health professionals can also save money by using free or low cost video services like Skype.

Expands Service Areas-A large number of people, including veterans, have a long drive in order to get to their audiologist. This means that every time they need a hearing aid adjustment they have to schedule time off of work or other life aspects. And for people who have busy and complicated lives, this isn't just an inconvenience, this is a huge disruption to an already hectic life. Because of this many people don't bother to travel or have their hearing tested. Telehealth practices could solve this problem. By making it easier for consumers, more and more people could seek help for their hearing loss, even those in very remote areas.

Autonomy-We've all heard that saying, "Give a man a fish he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for the rest of his life." Today's hearing aids are taking this to heart. Not only are there sophisticated software programs that allow people with hearing loss greater control over the settings on their hearing aids, but there are also more apps that allow people to use their cell phones to make adjustments on their hearing aids. But with any new technology there is a learning curve. Frustration with and an inability to understand apps and software can be resolved quickly with the ability for them to reach out and communicate directly with a hearing health provider. An in-home appointment could provide understand and reassurances that the person with hearing loss is getting the most out of their devices. As patients become more aware of these devices, the hearing health professional will spend less time introducing them to the latest technology, as patients will be already asking about it.

Greater User Satisfaction-People who use telehealth report having greater satisfaction with their hearing health provider. They used their hearing aids more often, found greater benefit in using them, had an increase in quality of life, and overall satisfaction.


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