What does staying home for an Audiology appointment look like?
In March of 2020, or even a little before that time, Covid-19 virus came to the United States. We were told to stay home and only essential businesses could serve people. Audiologists were told we are not essential and I understand that. Many people, however, have significant hearing loss and so we stayed open for curbside care during the shut down in Minneapolis.
Now that we are opening back up, even with the virus among us and not going anywhere, we audiologists need to be creative on how to keep our patients save and hearing. There is a lot we can do to keep our patients safe while providing best service practice.
Face to Face appointments:
For up front and personal face to face meetings it is best if we can be outside. The guidelines tell us that it is safer for us to be outside and less likely to spread the virus. I don't know anywhere in the United States, other than maybe California, but definitely not Minnesota, where you can have every appointment outside. We have weather issues here in the midwest. So we do need to go inside for many appointments. We can do an appointment as a curbside while the patient stay in her car. But those appointments offer minimal service.
If we go inside for an appointment, we need to keep 6 feet away from one another. Sometimes that is harder to manage in face to face appointments if we need to clean ears or get close to someone's ear(s). We can wear masks and we can wear face-shields. As health care providers, Audiologists know to wash their hands and use the alcohol based gels to disinfect. We also know that every time someone is seen there is a risk factor even with all precautions being followed.
What is Tele-health?
Tele-health is when a health care provider can work from another location than where the patient is located. Tele-health began years and years ago when doctors reached out via a phone call to talk to a patient. Over the years, providers began to use technology to reach out to their patients to provide support or get data. For instance, video calls are a type of Tele-health that enables the provider to see her patient. Another type of tele-health is an app that sends data to the provider such as heart rate monitoring.
More specifically, what is Tele-Audiology?
Basically, it is Audiology from a remote location where the provider and patient are not together physically. This is done by using different types of technology. Here are some of the appointments that can be done remotely from your home with the provider some where else.
It is now possible that audiologists can do hearing tests remotely. Diagnostic hearing tests are not as easy because the instrument to do the test needs to be calibrated. Therefore, the audiologists needs to send an instrument that is expensive to the patient. This is costly and not very efficient.
It is also difficult for the patient to know how to set up and use the equipment. This would be easier for testing in a senior center as a technician could set up the equipment and the audiologist could test from outside the facility. Again, unless the patient is very savvy with technology, there is still a need for a technician or audiology assistant to help.
Fitting and adjusting Hearing aids:
There is now technology from many of the hearing aid companies that allow remote adjustments and even fitting from the comfort of your own home or from somewhere other than the audiologists office.
First, some of the hearing aids allow you to take adjustments from the audiologists via an app. You, the patient can start the process by sending a message via the app to the audiologists. The audiologists gets notified via an email usually and sets up a time to do the adjustment you ask for. It is pretty simple.
More recently, technology is improving such that hearing aids can be fit in real time with the right technology and via a video conference. The potential of this type of appointment is more significant. As an example, the hearing aids could be picked up or dropped off via curbside and then first fit and adjusted again from the comforts of home. It is much easier to fit and adjust hearing aids in real time for a new user.
Future Blogs on Tele-Audiology
Chears will be doing more tele-audiology for our patients. Although we do some, we really have loved seeing people face to face. With safety in mind, we want to continue helping people with best practices and we really like the idea of real time fittings. Talk to us about it if you are interested. I will be writing more about tele-audiology in a series of blogs about fitting remotely, which will include purchasing online as a form of tele-audiology. In the meantime, consult with a professional before you just buy a pair on line.
Stay safe and be well. Kim