eAudiology: Balancing Hearing Support and Patient Safety

Jo-El M. Grossman

Phonak Content and Communications Manager

30 June 2020

Telehealth technology isn’t new, but its widespread use literally exploded with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to CivicScience data, the number of U.S. adults who reported intent to use telemedicine rose from 10% to 30% between February and March 2020.

Now as hearing care providers begin to re-open their practices, many are looking for a balance between in-practice appointments, providing quality hearing healthcare to their patients and accommodating social distancing requirements.

Michael Blackburn, Au.D., Phonak Sr. eSolutions Manager, offers insights on when you can offer teleaudiology, or eAudiology, to your patients and how it fits into their hearing healthcare.

eAudiology and the patient’s hearing journey

According to Dr. Blackburn, the Phonak eAudiology initiative includes a suite of eSolutions which are designed to support a digital hearing care journey. This includes the following:

eScreener (online hearing screener)

“An eScreener is an initial assessment tool to screen the patient’s hearing and inform him/her if a consult with a hearing care provider would be beneficial to him/her,” he said. “The results of the eScreener can provide the hearing care professional a general outline of the patient’s hearing loss and the ability to be fully prepared for the appointment beforehand.”

Phonak Remote Support

After the initial evaluation and hearing aid fitting, Phonak Remote Support becomes a powerful follow-up tool. “Remote Support allows convenient follow-up for both the patient and provider,” Dr. Blackburn added. “If your patient is concerned about coming into the office due to safety, travel or just time constraints, Remote Support can help.”

Once your patient is enrolled in Remote Support, initiating a session is simple and based on pre-determined appointments set up by your clinic processes. “You won’t have patients calling you through the app at all times of the day or night! Remote Support is designed to save both you and your patient time,” said Dr. Blackburn.

myPhonak app

This app is a another useful tool for any hearing aid and smartphone user. “The app allows quick adjustments to volume and custom program settings, as well as the activation of accessory devices (TV Connector, Roger, etc.),” said Dr. Blackburn. “Phonak Remote Support is also integrated into the myPhonak app, so your patient does not need to think about yet another app to download if he/she is already a myPhonak user.”

The ‘right’ patient for Remote Support

According to Dr. Blackburn, any patient meeting technical requirements for Remote Support may be considered as a candidate for this technology. “Patients with a smartphone, and compatible Phonak Marvel™ or Audéo B-Direct hearing aids meet these technical requirements,” he said.

In the past, hearing care providers may have only considered their more tech-savvy patients for Remote Support. However, a 2019 AARP survey revealed that nearly 30% of Baby Boomers already use smartphones to manage and receive medical care, and that 53% would prefer their medical needs to be managed by a combination of healthcare professionals and technology.¹

And, due to current social distancing requirements, many hearing care providers are exploring new ways of providing hearing care to their patients, including those less comfortable with technology.

“We know that the use of eAudiology continues to rise,” said Dr. Blackburn. “With Phonak Remote Support, there’s no in-office appointment needed. You can connect to your patients in real-time, with both audio and video, adjust their hearing aids, and optimize their hearing aids to support your patients’ needs.”

This not only applies to rural areas where patients can avoid the inconvenience of travelling long distances, but also to urban areas, especially for patients who may have mobility issues or challenges with transportation. “eAudiology allows a simpler, more efficient, yet customized provision of hearing healthcare, removing many of the barriers patients face that keep them from treating their hearing loss,” he said.

For patients who are less comfortable operating smartphones and apps, consider including family members (and their devices) to facilitate a Remote Support appointment. In addition, all hearing care providers with a Phonak eServices/PhonakPro login are now automatically enabled to invite patients to Remote Support sessions.

“You or your front office can reach out through an initial phone call to see how they are doing and then offer support through Phonak Remote Support,” he said.

AudiogramDirect: a safe alternative to in-person testing

AudiogramDirect is a form of in-situ hearing assessment using Phonak hearing aids. “AudiogramDirect has been available in Phonak products since 2011, and it is a reliable way to verify and refine audiometric results,” said Dr. Blackburn. “With the latest release of Phonak Target 6.2.8, AudiogramDirect is now available via Remote Support.”

At Home Hearing Test | AudiogramDirect In-Situ Audiometry

Dr. Cliff Olson discusses the use of in-situ audiometry through Phonak Marvel hearing aids using the AudiogramDirect feature remotely to allow your hearing care provider to give you an online hearing test through your hearing aids using your phone. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.

Phonak Field Study News has a new addition with “Audiogram and AudiogramDirect: comparison of in-clinic assessments.” This important validation of AudiogramDirect instills confidence in the results you obtain to verify your patient’s hearing thresholds, which includes:

  • Retrospective analyses of 167,772 in-clinic assessments compared to AudiogramDirect measurements.²
  • High level of correlation between standard audiometry and in-situ audiometry (AudiogramDirect), suggesting a high level of agreement between the methods.
    • 95% of examined thresholds fell within a range ± 15 dB HL with the average difference between AudiogramDirect and standard audiometry less than 1 dB HL.²

“When a patient or the audiologist is concerned hearing may have changed AudiogramDirect allows the provider to do a fast and accurate check of pure-tone audiometry thresholds,” said Dr. Blackburn. “This can be useful to determine if there may be a change in hearing requiring further evaluation.” In the meantime, the provider can use this new data to configure the hearing aid gain settings to the patient’s current hearing status.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, providers have been able to utilize AudiogramDirect as a safe alternative to an in-person hearing test. “It should be noted that AudiogramDirect does not replace an in-person test, and it is expected that a full audiologic evaluation be conducted as soon as possible,” added Dr. Blackburn.

What does ‘back to business’ look like?

Phonak Remote Support will fit into return to business in a variety of ways, but may look different for each patient. “There are various tools available that can support audiologists as they begin to reopen their practices and incorporate Remote Support,” said Dr. Blackburn.

For example:

These guides review Phonak Remote Support, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), digital service delivery and other adapted services, such as curbside care and in-home care.

Even though some research and practical experience may still be required, it has already been widely demonstrated that eAudiology works well and offers some definite advantages.³ “It will never completely replace in-person patient care — but that is not the intention,” said Dr. Blackburn. “It may not be suitable for every patient, but it can open opportunities for hearing care professionals to reach patients and offer services that they may not have been able to before.”

Many of your patients may be looking for hearing solutions, and they would be interested in Remote Support. Dr. Blackburn said, “More than ever, your patients are relying on their hearing health to stay connected – hearing their families and medical professionals, talking on the phone, listening to news and television. Offering them an eAudiology solution balanced with in-person appointments might be the key.”

Sources

1. “Older Adults Keep Pace on Tech Usage,” aarp.com

2. Phonak Field Study News | Audiogram and AudiogramDirect: comparison of in-clinic assessments.

3. Phonak Field Study News | Benefits and technical feasibility of providing remote hearing aid support for follow-up appointments.