New Zealand Company Develops Remote Hearing Care Innovation

New Zealand-based company, Triton Hearing, announced in April that it would be providing hearing aid services to rural communities via the internet—using a local nurse and remote audiologist. “With Triton Hearing TeleAudiology, the challenge of distance is eliminated. Communication technology enables remote consultations and the delivery of audiological services even if the client and audiologist are hundreds of kilometres apart.”

Reaching remote communities

Triton followed through with its plan to help rural customers via TeleAudiology, and the company has now released a video showcasing the service:

Interview with Triton’s Clinical Development Manager

We recently spoke to Craig Lett, Clinical Development Manager at Triton Hearing (and the audiologist featured in the video above) about Triton’s TeleAudiology solution. Craig is a member of the New Zealand Audiological Society and is on their examination board.

Hearing Tracker: Tell me a little bit about the development of this technology and teleaudiology workflow. How long have you been working on this project, and what was the development process like? Did you run into any issues along the way?

Craig Lett: As you know, telehealth and in particular, TeleAudiology, is not new and has been successfully delivering access to hearing healthcare in numerous countries. The missing link for us at Triton Hearing was the fact that no one, to our knowledge, had joined all the dots together for a full service, commercial model. Our goal was to be the first to sell a privately-funded hearing aid utilising only the TeleAudiology model of delivery.

The appointment flow is very much the same as you would find with any quality hearing healthcare provider. The difference is the method of delivery via teleconferencing technology. The secret ingredient is being able to provide real time connectivity with faultless video conferencing and immediate access to test results and client feedback.

The project has been 18 months in the making. Craig Lett has been working both clinically and as the project lead since he joined Triton Hearing last year.

Remarkably, there were very few issues that we encountered. I put this down to great planning and execution. Our IT networking partners, Strata Networks, did a great job. We even set them the challenge of delivering this service via a 4G network and they delivered.

Hearing Tracker: How long have you been piloting your teleaudiology program, and how many patients have you serviced so far?

Craig Lett: We piloted the programme for 2 months at our Remuera Clinic. Friends, family and colleagues were happy to give their time so we could refine the process before going live with the public. Since taking the service live, we have more than 100 client appointments under our belt already.

Hearing Tracker: The video does an excellent job of capturing the experience of receiving teleaudiology care from the perspective of the patient. Can you please tell me a little more about the roles of the remote audiologist and local healthcare worker in facilitating these services? (What are their respective responsibilities)

Craig Lett: The Remote Audiologist is in full control of the appointment, with the TeleAudiology Clinical Assistant (TCA) acting as their hands in the room with the client. For Triton Hearing, the TCA is a registered nurse who has specialised in otology (Ear Nurse). The Ear Nurse receives additional training on otoscopy, ear impressions, transducer placement, and hearing aid handling. The Audiologist makes all diagnostic and clinical decisions, performs all testing and verification, and prescribes hearing devices.

Hearing Tracker: Do audiologists and local healthcare workers require much training to help facilitate teleaudiology services using your system?

Craig Lett: No, a qualified audiologist should be able to carry out the consultation with little additional training in running the TeleAudiology equipment. Communication techniques vary a little with TeleAudiology: you need to consider the client’s perspective, for example, in how you show different types of hearing devices when you are not physically in the room. There is also the need to understand the use of the teleconferencing equipment. This is no more complicated than using a smartphone. The TCA training is intensive to ensure that they are familiar with the appointment flow and how they represent the hands of the audiologist in a seamless manner.

Hearing Tracker: Have you run into any technological limitations to providing comprehensive care? (are there any limitations to the care vs local audiological care, and what are the technology requirements, internet needs, etc).

Craig Lett: No, to be honest we absolutely nailed that side of the process. As I said, we have created a TeleAudiology model that can run off a 4G network. New Zealand has some of the strictest sound treatment requirements in the world. We therefore needed to ensure that we could deliver TeleAudiology in a sound booth, not just a sound-treated room. Our TeleAudiology system ensures that the Audiologist and client are in constant visual and audio communication, with the Audiologist able to adjust the angle and zoom on the videoconferencing system. We use multiple microphones, multiple cameras and multiple monitors to create the highest quality interaction we can. We are very happy with the level of excellence we have achieved.

Hearing Tracker: More and more baby boomers are hitting senior status everyday. and many are expecting the demand for hearing healthcare to outpace supply in the coming years. How can teleaudiology (and specifically your solution) help to address the growing demand for hearing healthcare?

Craig Lett: We invented this end-to-end process because we could not find additional resources for one of our rural clinics. The operational demands for hearing healthcare companies will only get more challenging for the reasons you describe. We see TeleAudiology bridging that operational gap. For example, you could have a team of TeleAudiologists in a city that is easy to recruit for, delivering services in hard to reach or hard to recruit for regions, anywhere in the world. The big area is in the developing markets: what’s to stop a New Zealand audiologists providing audiology in China, where there is 1 audiologist for 25 million people? The Ear Nurse would need to be multi-lingual, but with our TeleAudiology model we can deliver this service anywhere in the world. Now that’s exciting!

Hearing Tracker: Do you have any plans to bring your technology to the US or global hearing healthcare markets?

Craig Lett: Absolutely. As mentioned, we see this TeleAudiology model having global reach.

Mobile teleaudiology

In 2017, Triton has unveiled a mobile version of their remote teleaudiology solution, using a fashionable and functional retro mini bus! Check out the video below.

Remote hearing care in 2020

To learn more about remote hearing care, check out our article Hearing Aid Help at Home: Remote Hearing Care and Teleaudiology. In the article, we provide an overview of remote hearing care options in 2020, along with a comparison of remote care options available from all major hearing aid companies.