Remote Hearing Aid Programming during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond: An Industry Perspective
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop, forward-thinking hearing aid manufacturers and audiology practices are adapting by rolling out new remote services to support hearing aid patients. These capabilities include technology to allow for remote hearing aid programming, assistance in setting up accessory devices (i.e. televisions and remote microphones), and bluetooth connection troubleshooting. Other remote functions may include support for the use and maintenance of hearing aids. Manufacturers and Audiologists are beginning to dip their feet into the uncharted, deep waters of remote programming and rehabilitation, and as an industry community, we are looking towards each other for guidance, encouragement, and training on the fly. Our current climate serves as a perfect example of opportunity existing in a time of immense challenge and uncertainty.
Now that we are beginning to leverage capabilities to perform some aspects of our work remotely, we must confront the question of how we create urgency for patients and consumers to seek help from their homes?
Aside from wearing hearing aids that are capable of being programmed remotely, it is important for care providers and patients to have smartphone devices (iPhone or Android) and/or computers to engage with distance follow-up care and help. For elderly patients in particular, it does not have to be a personal device. A family member or friend can download relevant applications on their own smartphones to set up a wireless programming connection to hearing aids.
I thought it would be valuable and informative to engage with an industry expert at the forefront of the implementation of remote technology during this time of crisis. Accordingly, below is an interview performed on June 3rd, 2020 with Michael Steinman regarding programming candidacy and services. Mr. Steinman is a Regional Sales Manager in New York for WidexUSA, a prominent hearing aid manufacturing company headquartered in Denmark.
Dr. Abby Malawer: As a sales leader dedicated to getting patients hearing aid products to serve their needs, how are you and your colleagues adapting to the challenges brought on by COVID-19? What have the past weeks and months revealed to you about our industry and how we can move forward together?
Mr. Michael Steinman: We want to help individuals with hearing loss receive the care they need, but not at risk to their health and safety. We’ve worked with Audiologists using Widex REMOTE CARE™ to make sure patients with hearing aids receive support, and also to fit patients with new hearing aids. We’ve also shipped repairs and supplies direct to patients to help limit their need to visit hearing care providers who have had to close their offices.
Although hearing aid manufacturers have offered telehealth options for a while, we now see more providers offering remote services as part of their plans for now and moving forward. We will support our providers through this.
A. M.: Many patients acknowledge difficulty hearing and understanding speech clearly, but don’t feel motivated to pursue a hearing aid trial while physical interactions remain severely limited during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you outline benefits to wearing hearing aids at home for patients fitting this description?
M.S.: Certainly. People with hearing loss often rely on non-verbal cues and lip reading to “get by” while communicating with friends and family. Those adaptations just don’t work as well on the phone, video call, or even watching tv. Hearing aids can help solve that problem. Additionally, several studies show the benefits of consistent use of amplification when you have hearing loss, even just to hear environmental sounds.
We’re spending time on screens, watching TV, and listening to radio/podcasts — whether it’s to stay informed or for entertainment. Hearing well is critical to both understanding the news and simply enjoying a TV show.
A.M.: Once someone is fit with hearing aids by an Audiologist, how can remote care be promoted and leveraged to provide appropriate, high-quality support while patients may be unable to visit a physical office?
M.S.: Widex REMOTE CARE™ is the most comprehensive tele-audiology offering available today. A skilled hearing care professional can accomplish tasks ordinarily performed in an office, such as:
- Counseling with a full video and audio connection
- Fine-tuning hearing aid settings
- Reducing feedback issues
- Identifying need for repairs
A.M.: In terms of Widex’s offerings, where can patients look for access to telecare resources online? Is help readily available to make it easy for patients to engage with this new technology?
M.S.: Licensed Hearing Care Professionals are indispensable for patients who want to treat their hearing loss. Patients who don’t yet have a relationship with a hearing professional can visit widex.com to find one nearby. For patients who have Widex technology, there are lots of resources online. They can learn more about Widex REMOTE CARE, DEX™ accessories, pairing their hearing aids with a smartphone, hearing aid care and maintenance, and hearing loss at widex.com.
A.M.: Thank you, Michael. It seems that no question is silly when it comes to asking if you or your loved one is a candidate for remote programming, or what will it take to become one.