When we think about the process of getting hearing aids, many people envision multiple, time-consuming visits to an audiologist’s office. However, over half of U.S. counties have little or no access to audiologists, especially in rural areas. As Baby Boomers age and demand for audiology services rises, there aren’t enough new audiologists to address the need; the shortage is about to get worse. To combat this problem, some organizations, such as Your Hearing Network, are experimenting with telehealth audiology programs that will allow patients to have hearing tests and be fitted for hearing aids at home or at a local primary care doctor’s office.
The process of administering hearing tests and adjusting hearing aids typically take a few visits to the audiologist. Even in urban areas, however, patients with limited mobility, who are homebound, or who have limited caregivers may find it difficult to reach the audiologist’s office.
Early research into telehealth audiology programs suggests that the technology will be well-received by those with hearing loss. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reaching veterans in rural areas through store-and-forward telemedicine technology: Trained technicians at the remote sites collect test results and images for audiologists at VA Medical Centers to analyze later. The project has been so successful that eleven sites have requested hardware setups to expand their services.
The University of South Dakota recently published the results of a small study, in which caregivers rated “general comprehension” as 4.5 on a 5-point scale when using telehealth audiology; proceeding without telehealth technology rated at 2.7. Caregivers felt that using telehealth reduced their stress levels and improved the patients’ awareness and alertness.
Ultimately, though, it’s the patient and his/her family who benefit from telehealth audiology; think of the grandfather who simply wants to hear his grandchildren when they visit. Those memories—complete with sound—will last a lifetime.
To read more about the growing telehealth audiology industry, visit HealthyHearing.com here.