Remote appointments are more manageable than you think

By Clint McLean

Trevor Menchenton owns three audiology clinics and recently opened a private research lab in New Brunswick, Canada. Like many clinicians, he began offering remote appointments to clients during the pandemic. He says tele-audiology doesn’t have to be intimidating and can help audiologists reach new clients while delighting the existing ones.

“You just saved five hours!” Menchenton exclaimed from his Audiocorp clinic in New Brunswick. It was the end of his second tele-audiology appointment with Marlene, who was happily at home two-and-a-half hours away. She’d been making the long drive to see Menchenton for the past year, insisting that he was the person she wanted to be treating her hearing loss from now on.

Then, Menchenton convinced Marlene to try a remote appointment. The first one was bumpy. Menchenton spent a lot of time helping her solve connection and login issues. But the second appointment took all of 17 minutes and had the feeling of old friends catching up.

Overcoming the challenges

Menchenton, who has a doctorate in Audiology, says the initial appointment and getting clients connected that very first time is the key challenge with tele-audiology: “Clients need support to get connected and they need the professional to be understanding.” 

During Marlene’s technology struggles, Menchenton was as calm as a surgeon and kept the mood light. You could almost sense his heart rate slowing as he helped her connect her device and app. It’s a skill he thinks comes with being an audiologist. After all, audiologists are used to working with technology, and his clients include people of all ages and abilities: children, the elderly, people with dementia, and people at all stages of their hearing loss journey. 

To make problem solving easier, Menchenton recommends using an app like Zoom at the same time as the device manufacturer’s app. This way, clients can hold up their phone or iPad to their computer to show their audiologist their screens. And since Zoom has been embraced by so many new people since the pandemic began, odds are strong most clients have some experience using it.

“Instead of being anxious of the challenges of tele-audiology, think of the immense benefits from the patient perspective — not only time savings and convenience, but also by reducing the power balance that exists when patients are in a clinician’s office.” 

The rise of tele-audiology

Menchenton is among a throng of audiologists who began offering remote care in their clinics during the pandemic. A survey of 120 audiologists in the UK found, “About 30% of respondents said they had used tele-audiology prior to COVID-19 restrictions; 98% had done at the time of survey completion, and 86% said they would continue to do so even when restrictions are lifted.”

A larger survey of 337 audiologists, published in the International Journal of Audiology, was similarly positive: “There was a significant increase in the perceived importance of telehealth from before (44.3%) to during COVID-19 (87.1%), and the use of telehealth previous (41.3%), current (61.9%) and expected use of telehealth (80.4%).”

But remote care isn’t just a detour to take when a pandemic interrupts physical access to patients. It’s a way to meet clients when, where, and how is convenient for them and gain better insight into their lives. 

Great for new and existing clients

“Tele-audiology is going to let us serve different parts of the population that may be hard to access for any number of reasons,” Menchenton says. “Think about a busy businessperson who doesn’t want to leave work for an hour to go see an audiologist. But in their office, on their lunchbreak, why can’t I connect to their hearing aids? They’re accustomed to using their phone — they use their phone to program their hearing aids. Log in, make a quick change and you’re often done in 10-15 minutes. And they love it. They love that kind of care and service.”

Marlene also loved having her appointment online. At the end of her first appointment, Menchenton asked her if she would want to use remote care for other medical appointments. Her answer is the reason hearing care professionals should consider including tele-audiology in their person-centered approach to hearing care. 

“Absolutely, this is great. My goodness, to start with, you don’t have to go and sit in a waiting room for an hour. And imagine in the winter when there are snowstorms. And you can do it from wherever — if I’m in Vancouver we can do this, if I’m in Florida we can do this. There are so many advantages.”

Want to learn more about tele-audiology? Visit our tele-audiology FAQs to discover who tele-audiology is suitable for, how it differs from traditional audiology, what benefits it brings, and more. 

Also, check out our free, accredited course Tele-Audiology: Person-Centered Care From Afar, in the Ida Learning Hall (login required).