Telehealth top of the agenda among consumers, professionals, and academics

By Judith Vonberg

When 30 diverse organizations from around the world meet, it’s rare that one topic emerges as a universal priority. But that’s what happened at the latest gathering of the Person-Centered Hearing Network, a global group of consumer organizations, professional associations, and universities committed to spreading awareness and practice of person-centered hearing care.

On November 3, we came together online from five continents, representing hearing care professionals, consumers, academics, and students – and the word on everyone’s lips was “telehealth.”

Hopes and concerns for remote care

First divided into our stakeholder groups, we discussed how insights from Ida’s Future Hearing Journeys report were helping different organizations prepare their stakeholders for the future. Unprompted, every group focused on remote care. 

We discovered that the challenges, opportunities, and current situation vary widely between geographies. 

In some places, Covid-19 has accelerated a shift towards tele-audiology, while in others, change is slower. Some areas – such as rural Canada and islands off the UK mainland – are ahead of the curve, forced by logistics to start delivering remote care long before the pandemic, while others have moved fast to respond to changing needs. For example, Brazil quickly introduced telehealth regulations because of the pandemic.

Despite these differences, there was broad agreement that meaningful hearing care partnerships can be developed online, and that consumers are becoming more open to this option (if they’re given adequate support to use the technology). 

But there was also concern – that consumers need guidance in understanding their remote care options and vocalizing their needs, and that professionals need support in how to deliver person-centered care (PCC) online. Because it’s not the same as in-person PCC.  

Click here to read our recent article, Remote appointments are more manageable than you think.

From telehealth simulations to human libraries

The stage was set for the second brainstorm session, where we met with others from our regions to make concrete plans for new PCC initiatives.

Unsurprisingly, several focused on telehealth, including one suggestion from North America to develop a series of videos of real remote appointments, or even interactive simulations, that could help Audiology students learn about and practice their remote care skills.

Other project ideas focused on sharing knowledge and expertise across institutions and stakeholder groups. Participants from Europe, inspired by the “human library” concept, plan to start collating diverse stories and experiences of people with hearing loss to be shared with Audiology students, while network members in Brazil, South Africa, and Australia hope to further develop Ida chapters across the region and organize an online PCC conference.

We at Ida look forward to seeing these projects kick off soon, and to continuing our work with our partners to meet the challenges and fulfil the opportunities of tele-audiology.

As one participant put it, “Are we ready to deliver telehealth?” is the wrong question. Instead, we should be saying, “We need to do this. What’s the best way?”