Thoughts on Remote Hearing Care: Charging Into a New, Customer-Centric Era
Since graduating with my doctorate in Audiology, I spent five years working for a renowned ENT practice, serving patients in New York City. While I had the opportunity to experience a number of different office settings within the city’s five boroughs, I spent the majority of my time in upper Manhattan testing hearing and fitting patients for relatively high-end hearing aid devices, in the four to six thousand dollar price range per pair. While the office serviced a largely elderly population, I tended to and fit patients with a wide variety of hearing impairments and medical conditions, ranging in age from 18 to 104 years old. Our office was home to adult and pediatric ENT physicians, otologists, laryngologists, facial plastics specialists, and allergists. The wide spectrum of practice areas covered by our team led to a diverse population coming through our doors.
Since the beginning of my patient-facing career, increased price competition among vendors and wider availability of lower cost, decent quality device options have made the marketplace more challenging for providers to succeed and consumers to process information. Bluetooth compatibility, hearing aid device rechargeability, and remote programming capability have also become prominent, in-demand product features. As an industry practitioner and adjunct assistant professor in the field as well, I follow these technological developments and trends closely in an effort to provide patients and students with transparent, up-to-date information to support their education and decision making processes. As a forward thinker, I had a great interest in pivoting my career toward a telehealth focus. I am thrilled to have recently joined the team at Lively, and to be offering tele-audiology services to patients every day.
It is common knowledge in our industry that many adults with hearing loss take up to seven years from the time of diagnosis to the time of hearing aid purchase. In my role as a remote audiologist for Lively, I have the privilege of speaking with customers from across the United States. From these conversations, I have come to observe that people are not complacently sitting around waiting for seven years to pass them by. Rather, are assessing how a decline in hearing ability may be impacting their quality of lives, family interaction, and working ability. Once that assessment is made, many are conducting online searches and ordering various amplifiers or hearing aids to try. Few individuals return to their healthcare providers for advice.
With this in mind, it is worthwhile for us to ask ourselves: what makes a consumer a good candidate for remote care for hearing devices and counseling, and who should be encouraged to return to a physical office setting?
When I thought about this question months ago, I was inclined to lean into factors such as age, access and proficiency with computer technology. With this said, I have come to learn that over 80% of today’s elderly population uses smartphones, and I spend quality time in appointments with many older adults who are capable of joining video conferences and participating in remote fine-tuning sessions with ease. Some need support from family members or friends, but that collaboration is made possible by having appointments at home with a larger range of time and provider availability. Adults who cannot take time off from work, who spend long days on the road, or even who camp out in trailers exploring for months at a time are now able to participate in remote office visits due to advances in telehealth and connectivity. More people than ever before can get excited and involved in their hearing care quicker, as physical and cost barriers break down around our industry. I am a believer that the COVID-19 pandemic has merely accelerated inevitable trends in healthcare delivery. The reimagination of how care is accessible will allow providers like myself to meet Americans where they are and on their schedules.
Telehealth and tele-audiology is not for everyone. Children and individuals with significant dual-sensory impairments in vision and hearing should still be seen in-person by providers. Cases that involve complex and severe hearing loss, vertigo, and/or discharge from the ears should still be evaluated by a collaborative team of doctors. The suite of services offered via remote care is constantly evolving, with a near endless supply of eligible and appropriate candidates. Consumers who enjoy uninterrupted, quality time with their providers in addition to lively conversation will experience fulfillment choosing Lively for hearing care. People are hungry for information, solutions, and convenience. We, as professionals, need to keep an open mind and continue to work hard in developing the foundation for what will be a new future in hearing care product and service delivery.