From 2013 to 2015, the Ida Institute organized a series of in-person workshops and virtual meetings aimed at developing a vision for what hearing healthcare would look like in the year 2020.
Together with more than 100 hearing care professionals from around the world, we explored trends in hearing care and how developments in technology and society at large would influence the profession. Through seminars, satellite meetings in different regions, workshops, and virtual meetings, we discussed current challenges and opportunities in audiology and dreamed about tomorrow.
As an outcome of this process, we defined a common vision: to make hearing care valued and accessible for all. We also identified three work streams that have influenced and continue to inform our work at the Ida Institute: 1) defining the hearing care manager of the future, 2) telehealth, and 3) raising awareness about the value of hearing.
Tomorrow came even faster than anticipated. Looking back at our conversations from 2013, many of the future scenarios described then have become a reality, and many of the concerns that were raised during these meetings are more relevant than ever.
The hearing care manager of the future
Today, new technologies, delivery models, and consumer expectations are rapidly transforming the landscape of hearing care delivery. Self-fitting hearing aids are no longer a far-fetched, futuristic scenario, and over-the-counter (OTC) devices are expected to become regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this year.
Such developments are challenging the traditional role of hearing care professionals who see testing and fitting hearing instruments as their core services. What happens when these tasks are replaced by new technology? Will there still be a need for hearing care professionals?
According to the most recent Marketrak survey, 50 percent of hearing aid non-owners would be open to the idea of purchasing an OTC device rather than going through a hearing care professional. The same study shows that 88 percent of current hearing aid users would probably or definitely go through a hearing care professional.
This example indicates that the need for traditional audiological services could effectively be on the decline among first time hearing aid users. But it also shows that those who have already been to a hearing care professional can see the value of the services that professionals provide.
For someone who has just realized they have a hearing loss, talking to a person who will listen, who has expert knowledge, understands your problem, and can help you find effective strategies to improve your communication, is invaluable. Hearing loss has a huge impact on a person’s emotional and physical well-being and there will always be a need for professionals who are able to provide people with good, relevant, and individually tailored advice.
During the Vision 2020 process, we identified person-centered care as a crucial value proposition of the hearing care manager of the future. This includes increasing focus on patients’ individual needs, values, and preferences and involving them actively in the counseling process. The hearing care manager of the future needs to think of themselves as a Sherpa, someone who can provide patients with individualized treatment plans and long-term guidance to help them navigate their hearing journey. This vision of the hearing care manager of the future seems more relevant than ever.
In a recent article published in Audiology Today entitled "Decoupling Professional Audiological Services from the Sale of Hearing Devices," Brian Taylor and Vinaya Manchaiah argue that “By shifting the focus from the bundled hearing health-care services to stand-alone professional services, audiologists could open underserved segments of the market by promoting patient-centered care.”
The article highlights the growing recognition of the need for hearing care professionals to rethink their role. As foreseen during the Vision 2020 meetings, the functions that have been considered as the most essential so far – namely testing and fitting – may very well become secondary, while the professionals’ counseling skills and ability to provide impartial advice and emotional support could become their most valuable assets.
As discussed during the Vision 2020 process, telehealth provides another avenue for hearing care professionals to increase their value for today’s healthcare clients and deliver care in new, efficient ways.
Convenience, immediacy, transparency, and effectiveness have all become requirements of today’s consumers – a trend that will increase in the new decade with smartphones, apps, FaceTime, and other technologies revolutionizing our way of communicating. New consumer expectations and behaviors are spilling over into hearing care, with clients becoming more informed and expecting access to care when and where they need it.
As a follow up to Vision 2020, the Ida Institute developed a platform of online tools, Ida Telecare, which allows professionals to bridge the gap between person-centered care and telehealth and extend their services beyond the appointment. Addressing different situations and types of clients – from adults, to children, to teens and tweens and tinnitus patients – the tools help clients prepare for appointments and think about strategies for how to manage daily communication successfully. This paves the way for more focused and efficient appointments and enables professionals to deliver care that is designed around the needs of the individual.
Ida Telecare exemplifies how telehealth and person-centered care are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, embracing telehealth should be seen as an opportunity for audiologists to extend and strengthen their relationships with clients and embrace a more person-centered approach.
Partnering for change: toward a global movement for person-centered care
Since the Vision 2020 process, we have continued our work to raise awareness about the value of hearing and person-centered care through initiatives such as the Big Messages campaign in 2016 and through our ongoing communication and PR activities.
In the last two years, we’ve seen a considerable increase in the interest in person-centered hearing care in professional media, accompanied by a growing recognition of the value of person-centered care across many healthcare sectors and systems.
Despite this growing interest in person-centered care, the practical application of person-centered methods still seems to be lagging behind in many places. In effect, implementing person-centered practices throughout the hearing healthcare system is an ambitious task. It requires action on many levels – from the education of hearing care professionals, to clinical practice, to the way patients receive and perceive care. This, in turn, requires collaboration among all the stakeholders involved.
To address this, Ida recently launched a new global initiative, the Person-Centered Hearing Network (PCHN). The network aims to create a movement of people and organizations working in unison to develop person-centered practices in hearing care and strengthen awareness about person-centered care on a global level.
As we enter 2020, we strongly believe that this type of collaboration toward a more person-centered future is what will take hearing care to the next level and allow us to realize the ambition defined through the Vision 2020 project to make hearing care valued and accessible for all.
The future is here and it’s person-centered. Are you ready?