The current need for telehealth is unprecedented, leading many hearing care professionals to consider offering new tele-services for their clients. That can seem a daunting task, but with a bit of planning and guidance, it can be a wonderful addition to a practice which leads to more satisfied clients without sacrificing quality care.
Frances Lockhart, Clinical Leader and tele-audiology subject matter expert at Hearing Australia, wrote and developed our Tele-Audiology: Person-Centered Care from Afar Learning Hall course (login required) and the telehealth module of our University Course. Here, she answers some of the most common questions people have about launching new tele-audiology services.
What is tele-audiology and how does it differ from traditional audiology?
Tele-audiology is simply a different way of caring for your clients. It still provides high quality care, but without your client being physically with you in the clinic. Using SMS, email, phone calls, or online meetings to support hearing care are just some of the ways of delivering tele-audiology.
Tele-audiology falls into two main groups:
1. Asynchronous tele-audiology is when there is a time difference in the interactions between you and your clients. Examples would be: Sending your client a link to an Ida Telecare tool on one day, and the client reading it, completing it, and sending it back to you the next day. Or, they fill in the goal setting details on your website form, which you then discuss together at your next appointment.
2. Synchronous tele-audiology is when you and the clients are interacting at the same time such as during phone-counselling sessions, webchats, or skype calls.
Some clients will experience a bit of both along with face-to-face appointments over their hearing journey.
Can I get to know my clients and build rapport using tele-audiology as well as if they had come to see me in person?
Tele-audiology is not designed to replace in-person care, but to enhance it. Varied forms of communication can help you to get a more well-rounded understanding of your clients. Seeing them in their homes or having them consider and articulate their challenges in a setting where they are comfortable and at ease will show you a new side of them. Face-to-face meetings may still be preferred for some appointments, but depending on the stage of their hearing journey, phone, email, SMS, webchat, or video conferencing may be an ideal way to augment appointments or to help clients prepare in advance for face-to-face meetings.
For example, imagine your client has injured themselves and can’t come to see you. You arrange a video conference with them to discuss their goals and how to use their hearing aids better. You previously emailed your client links to some Ida Telecare tools, so you know that watching TV at a level that won’t bother the neighbours is one of their goals. During the call, you notice that the client’s living room is arranged with their TV chair beside a window looking out onto a busy road. This might explain why they have trouble hearing the TV at a typical volume. You can now discuss positioning the furniture differently or the importance of closing the window when watching TV.
Which clients is tele-audiology suitable for?
The question might more accurately be put: Who isn’t tele-audiology suitable for? Tele-audiology includes a variety of tools and methods for interacting so there is something suitable for most clients. Options can be as simple as using the phone or even the standard postal service. Keep in mind, clients will require different types of support during the different stages of their hearing journey. The tools you select to use with a client should also be matched to your client’s technical ability. If your client can read emails and has an email address, then using email as a component of their care would be appropriate. If they only have a landline, but manage well taking calls, then that would be appropriate and would also offer an opportunity to teach them some good phone tactics and strategies. If your client wants to use video conferencing to better communicate with their family and friends abroad, then video conferencing could be a great tool.
To match your clients with the right tele-audiology services, get to know how they currently use technology and what they wish to learn or need to know to meet their goals.
Can I adjust my clients’ hearing aids using tele-audiology?
Many hearing aid manufacturers now have remote options for tuning hearing aids if you register your client when setting up the hearing aid in the software. In most cases, it is done through an app your client downloads, which then connects via Bluetooth to their hearing aids. If you need to adjust the prescription or settings of the hearing aids, you can log in and connect to a manufacturer portal to make the changes. Those changes are then sent to the client’s app – usually on their mobile. Once the client accepts the changes, they are uploaded to the hearing aids. Talk to your manufacturer and discuss what remote tuning options they have.
What are the benefits offering tele-audiology services?
Tele-audiology is a great addition to your person-centred care toolkit. It gives you the ability to address your clients’ needs when, where, and how it suits them best. It also allows you to provide services in many ways rather than just asking clients to come to you physically, which may not always be their preference or even possible. It also means that you can explore a wider range of communication options that may be impacting your patients and their family’s ability to manage their hearing loss.