The possibilities for telehealth are endless – we haven’t even dreamed up all the ways telehealth will be used in audiology in the future. But there are real ways it is being used right now, and it’s to the benefit of all audiologists and people with hearing loss to embrace these measures.
How Can I Get Started with Telehealth Now?
Begin by developing your web presence. It should be easy for people with hearing loss to find you online. Start by setting up a website that clearly lists your opening hours, location, and contact information. It’s also helpful if you set up Facebook and Yelp pages with all of the same information – these pages will come up if your clients do a web search for you. Appointments can be booked more efficiently online. There are several free systems that you can use on your website. Appointments themselves can be more effective if your client knows what to expect. Have a frequently asked questions section on your site that will prepare them for their appointment and prompt any questions they have. Australian Hearing’s website, for example, provides basic background information on different kinds of hearing loss.
What will your clients be looking for?
You can make your own instructional videos using your phone or tablet for small things like cleaning hearing aids, changing a battery, or simply explaining the mechanics of the hearing aid, like the above video provided by Dr. Carly Meyer at the University of Queensland. You can email these videos to your client and have them posted on your website, so that the client always has ready support for these everyday tasks. As an added bonus, people searching for instructional videos will find your videos and draw extra attention to your business.
As you continue to branch out with telehealth, think about how you communicate with your clients. What do they need to be in the clinic for, and what can they be at home for? Can you devote time before or after your clinic hours to take phone, FaceTime, or Skype calls for clients who can’t come in during normal business hours? Could you send monthly reminders via email, text message, or social media to your clients reminding them to clean their hearing aids or change their batteries? We’re only learning the limits of telehealth as we test them. During our Vision 2020 process, participant Heidi Limareff decided to try an at-home appointment with her mother via Skype. They shared their appointment here:
Communicating outside of the clinic
It’s a learning experience for both the clinician and the client, but it is still a successful appointment. As Heidi lives in Australia and her mother is in the United States, no amount of scheduling would make it possible for Heidi’s mother to come into the clinic! Remember that software like Skype will not provide encryption. It is the responsibility of of the clinician to check the software specifications before getting started to ensure the security of the client's data. While appointments that allow the client to stay home are still a new idea, clinic-to-clinic tele-audiology is already in practice. Offering clients an alternative to traveling long distances for their appointments and offering them the same personalized treatment via video is a way to keep person-centered care accessible and central to your practice, even if there are technological hiccoughs.
Using telehealth as part of your practice is going to take some adjusting, and may involve investing and training in new software. It is a form of professional development like any other, and part of the constantly improving hearing technology available to clients. The results, however, will increase awareness and availability for people with hearing loss everywhere.