Remote Hearing Care and Teleaudiology
Sheltering at Home? Ask Your Audiologist About Remote Care
“Telehealth,” “telemedicine,” and “telecare” are terms we will hear a lot more of during an extended period of sheltering at home. So if you wear a pair of brand-name hearing aids, now is a good time to learn about “teleaudiology.”
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, hearing aid manufacturers were ramping up their remote care capabilities. Smartphone apps, text messaging, and web-based video calls were making it possible for audiologists to communicate more easily with patients at home. And new cloud-based digital services were starting to enable providers to send program adjustments directly to their patients’ hearing aids over the web.
But for many consumers and audiologists, teleaudiology is still a relatively new concept, and at-home hearing aid services have only just started to catch on. So, we can expect that necessity will be the mother of invention as patients and providers stuck at home start to use new teleaudiology tools.
Table of contents
What is teleaudiology?
In a nutshell, teleaudiology is the provision of audiological services over the phone or internet. Teleaudiology—sometimes called “remote care” or “remote hearing care”—enables your audiologist to make adjustments to your hearing aids remotely, without requiring an office visit. Web-based technologies connect an app on your smartphone to a secure online patient portal on your provider’s computer. During a virtual consultation, audiologists are able to check in on your progress, provide counseling, and make real-time hearing aid adjustments.
Remote hearing care is very helpful for those who have just been fitted with new hearing aids. It can take a lot of time—and sometimes several rounds of sound adjustments—to get fully accustomed to a new pair of hearing aids. This is especially true for first-time hearing aid wearers. Remote care makes it possible to get all the sound tweaking you need without the hassle of repeatedly scheduling and traveling to in-office appointments.
How to access remote care
In 2020, remote care is almost always provided through your hearing aids’ smartphone app. The first step is downloading the app that works with your hearing aids and granting your audiologist permission to provide you with remote assistance. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds, and your audiologist will walk you through everything in their office (keep reading for the social-distancing approach) before sending you on your way. And once the app is set up, you can use it to communicate with your provider, share information about your hearing aid usage, and receive real-time adjustments to your hearing aid settings.
If you want the benefits of remote care, be sure to ask your provider about it. Does their practice offer it? Which hearing aid models are available with teleaudiology? Will you need a particular brand of phone to access remote care (most likely, either an Apple iPhone or iPad that uses the iOS operating system, or a Samsung Galaxy or other smartphone that uses the Android operating system)?
Accessing remote care during COVID-19
If you’re wearing teleaudiology-capable hearing aids, and have a compatible Android or iOS device, you may already have access to remote care. Check in with your audiologist to see if they are currently providing remote care services. If so, your audiologist will let you know if there are any additional steps necessary to access remote care.
If your audiologist is not offering remote care services, you’ll need to find help elsewhere. Check our provider directory for local clinics offering remote care. Once you’ve found a clinic to take care of you, you’ll need to (unfortunately) drop your hearing aids off at the new provider to have them enroll you in the remote care platform that supports your brand of hearing aids. Check with the new provider to see if they are accepting curbside or drop-off servicing requests.
The benefits of remote care
If you live far away from your audiologist, the cost and time savings provided by remote hearing aid care are obvious. The same is true for those who have limited mobility or who are sheltering in place due to COVID-19. Aside from the obvious benefits, there are many additional benefits of teleaudiology, including:
- Hearing aid updates on the fly - Sound and programming updates offered by your audiologist can lead to major improvements in performance. And because immediate updates can be tested on-the-spot, you can get the best hearing aid performance possible in the listening environments that you find most challenging.
- More interaction with your audiologist - With remote care, your provider is only a text or video call away. Any problems that come up can be solved more quickly than waiting for a time-consuming office appointment. And more interaction with your provider means you can make constant improvements that will dramatically increase your satisfaction with your hearing aids.
- Ongoing performance monitoring - Your audiologist will have immediate insight into your hearing aid usage and performance. This will help guide the care they provide, the adjustments they make, and the recommendations they make for follow up appointments.
The net of all these benefits is better day-to-day hearing aid performance, higher satisfaction, and less time investment.
The limitations of remote care
Of course, there are limits to current remote hearing care services. You still need to visit your provider for the initial hearing test and hearing aid fitting, as well any necessary adjustments to the physical fit of your hearing aids. And real-ear measurement (REM)*, an important test that verifies your hearing aids are meeting your unique sound prescription, must still be done on site.
Additionally, not all hearing aids work with teleaudiology services. You’ll need to purchase a newer pair of Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids from one of the top-tier brands. And you’ll need to own a relatively modern iPhone or Android smartphone too. Oh, and owning the right hearing aids and a compatible phone doesn’t guarantee you access to remote care. Your audiologist needs to be trained up and technologically able to provide the service in the first place.
*Whenever possible, do not forego a REM test. If a REM test is not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, consider asking for a refund / exchange policy that covers you if your hearing aids are not capable of meeting your prescription when a REM test is able to be performed. This will ensure you don’t get stuck with hearing aids that don’t meet your hearing needs. If your hearing aids don’t meet your REM prescription, consider asking for stronger speakers, custom earmolds, or a more powerful model. If adjustments can’t be made to give you the volume you need, consider asking for an exchange or refund.
The cost of remote care
Most audiologists bundle the cost of their services in with the cost of the hearing aids. This means, when you purchase a pair of hearing aids, you’ll usually get anywhere between 1-5 years of unlimited free follow-up service, all depending on the provider of course. The bundled price typically covers in-office visits, and with the advent of teleaudiology, bundled pricing typically includes remote follow-up visits too. However, in 2020, there is a growing trend for practices to unbundle their hearing aid pricing, so if your purchase is unbundled, be sure to check on the cost of in-office versus remote follow-up appointments. Who knows, you might even save some money by going with remote appointments.
Current teleaudiology platforms
Makers of premium hearing aids have led the development of web-based remote hearing care services. Five global manufacturers—Sonova, Demant, WS Audiology, Starkey, and GN Hearing—now control more than 80% of the global market for premium hearing aids, and all have developed remote care offerings for one or more of their product lines. Because most hearing aids are sold by audiologists, teleaudiology solutions are designed to optimize personal interaction between audiologists and patients.
Continue reading for an overview of the teleaudiology platforms offered by each major hearing aid brand, or check out our comprehensive brand comparison on Google Sheets (no login required). Our brand comparison is a live document, and will be updated as we learn more, and as manufacturers update their solutions, so please bookmark this page.
Remote care feature overview
The table below provide a quick overview of remote care features. Please consult the Google Sheet for the most up-to-date and comprehensive information.
|Signia app||myPhonak app||Widex Remote Care||Thrive Hearing app||ReSound Smart 3D™||Oticon RemoteCare||HearMax app|
|Real-time remote tuning||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Video call support||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|No accessory required||✓||✓||REMOTE LINK required||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Remote control||✓||✓||✓ (separate app)||✓||✓||✓ (separate app)||✓|
|Hearing aid models||Xperience and Nx models||Audéo™ M, Bolero™ M, Virto M, Naida M and Audéo™ B-Direct||MOMENT™, EVOKE™, BEYOND™, UNIQUE™, DREAM™||Livio, Livio AI, and Livio Edge||LiNX Quattro, LiNX 3D, Enzo Q, and Enzo 3D||Opn S™, Opn™, Xceed, Opn Play™, Xceed Play, and Siya||Amaze and Trust|
Remote care app ratings and links
The table below provide a quick overview of remote apps and links. Again, please consult the Google Sheet for the most up-to-date and comprehensive information.
|Signia app||myPhonak app||Widex Remote Care||Thrive Hearing app||ReSound Smart 3D™||Oticon RemoteCare||HearMax app|
|Remote care available on Android||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓ (request based)||✓||✓ (request based)|
|Remote care available on iOS||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓ (real-time with video)||✓||✓ (real-time with video)|
|App info||App info||App info||App info||App info||App info||App info||App info|
|iOS download||iOS download||iOS download||iOS download||iOS download||iOS download||iOS download||iOS download|
|iOS app rating||2.3 / 5||2.5 / 5||2.8 / 5||3.0 / 5||2.4 / 5||3.4 / 5||3.3 / 5|
|iOS app review count||65 reviews||184 reviews||4 reviews||14 reviews||1,282 reviews||8 reviews||157 reviews|
|Android download||Android download||Android download||Android download||Android download||Android download||Android download||Android download|
|Android app rating||2.7 / 5||2.8 / 5||No reviews yet||2.1 / 5||2.3 / 5||3.4 / 5||2.9 / 5|
|Android app review count||143 votes||1,454 votes||No reviews yet||254 votes||1,796 votes||15 votes||351 votes|
ReSound and Beltone remote care
As people began sheltering at home due to COVID-19, ReSound and Beltone (both GN Hearing brands) both released improvements to their respective remote care platforms. Both brands already offered solutions that let people request and receive adjustments to their hearing aids remotely, but the recent update means it’s now possible to have video calls with your provider, and both brands now support real-time hearing aid adjustments.
With ReSound Live Assist and Beltone Remote Care Live, you are able to have a video call with your provider and receive real-time hearing aid updates from home.
GN’s platform also allows audiologists to monitor their patients’ hearing aid usage and performance in different listening environments. This type of data helps inform counseling and future hearing aid adjustments, which ultimately leads to greater patient satisfaction.
The apps from ReSound and Beltone let you request a video call from your audiologist. During a video call, your provider can adjust your audio and program settings in real time, just like they might if you were sitting in their office. You can evaluate any new settings during the video call and have your provider make further adjustments until you’re happy with the changes. Afterwards, you’ll have a chance to try out any new settings and provide feedback through the app. Feedback you provide will help inform your audiologist on the success of the remote appointment.
Beltone’s remote assistance feature, Remote Care Live, comes with its Beltone HearMax smartphone app for iOS and works with Beltone Amaze hearing aids. In its announcement, Beltone noted the pressing need for all kinds of telehealth services:
Remote Care Live becomes even more important as patient access to in-person hearing care is limited as communities across the country implement various “stay home” policies to help minimize COVID-19 spread. We’ve seen the growth of telemedicine in many medical settings, but it has been a recent introduction to hearing care. With Beltone Remote Care Live, we really take it to a new level, making it easier on our patients and their families to access the hearing care they need.Monte Dillow, President, Beltone
At the same time, ReSound introduced its new ReSound Assist Live feature, enabling live video consultations with hearing care professionals for support wherever you are. ReSound’s wireless Bluetooth hearing aids, including ReSound LiNX Quattro and ReSound Enzo Q models, work with the ReSound Smart 3D smartphone app (Android and iOS) for adjustments to your hearing aids during live video consultations.
Phonak remote care
Phonak is the flagship hearing aid brand from Sonova Group, the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturer. Phonak currently offers teleaudiology solutions for Audeó B Direct, Audeó M, Bolero M, Naída M, and Virto M hearing aids. The myPhonak app lets you have a video call with your audiologist, who can make real-time adjustments to your hearing aids.
Dr. Cliff, AuD, demonstrates the myPhonak app, performing a video consultation and making program adjustments from his office in Phoenix for a patient in New Hampshire. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.
The myPhonak app also has a Hearing Diary feature. The Hearing Diary logs all your hearing aid usage, so your audiologist can review how, where, and when you use your different audio settings. It also lets you share your experiences and satisfaction ratings with your provider, who can use the information to quickly and easily provide program updates.
In a survey of remote-care patients, Phonak found that 92% would recommend virtual office appointments to others who wear hearing aids, with 64% of patients indicating they prefer remote visits over face-to-face sessions. Remote care gets high marks from hearing care professionals, too, with 80% indicating that they found remote sessions as efficient as in-person appointments.
Widex Remote Care
Widex is a premiere hearing aid brand manufactured by WS Audiology. Widex Remote Care works with BEYOND, EVOKE and MOMENT hearing aids, as well as many legacy products. With the Widex Remote Care App and Widex Remote Link neckworn-accessory, you can have a live video call with your audiologist and receive real-time hearing aid adjustments.
Your provider can send hearing aid program updates to the Widex Remote Care App, which transmits them—in real-time—to the hearing aids through the neck-worn Widex Remote Link accessory.
Signia remote care
- Remote Tuning - Enables your provider to make real-time program changes to your hearing aids through the Signia App, and to communicate face-to-face in virtual video sessions.
- CareChat - Secure text messaging with your provider is also supported by the Signia App.
- Daily Satisfaction Ratings - Daily reminders to rate the performance of your hearing aids and provide comments.
- Hearing Lessons - Assess your experiences in different listening situations, and provide feedback so your provider can make the best adjustments for you.
Like Beltone, Signia has emphasized the importance of remote hearing health care during the pandemic lockdown: “At a time when reducing the spread of the coronavirus is on many people’s minds, remote assistance for hearing aids is essential. TeleCare offers remote assistance and supports you from the first appointment all the way through aftercare.”
Signia currently offers video calls and live remote tuning for most Xperience and Nx models. Other Signia models may still be tuned remotely, but without video teleconferencing, and with fewer programming options for the audiologist.
Starkey remote care
Starkey’s Hearing Care Anywhere program enables its popular Livio, Livio Edge, and Livio AI hearing aids to be programmed remotely through the Thrive Hearing Control app. The Thrive app offers live sessions—video-supported remote programming sessions—and also has a very mature asynchronous ticket-based programming process. During live sessions, your hearing care professional can make changes to your hearing aids in real time, just as they would in clinic.
Using the ticket system, you can use the app to submit a request for hearing aid updates from your provider, who is then able to send program updates, which may be downloaded and applied to your hearing aids. When submitting a request, the Thrive app asks you to first verify that the hearing aids are clean and fitting correctly. The app then runs an automated diagnostic hardware check to ensure the hearing aids are functioning properly. You are then asked to describe the issue, after which you may submit your request.
When your provider sends you program updates, you may preview the updates before loading them permanently into your hearing aids. The Thrive app even lets you toggle back and forth between the existing and new settings, which makes it easier to select your preferred setting. After saving new settings to your hearing aids, the Thrive app asks you to rate your satisfaction with the changes.
Oticon remote care
Oticon’s RemoteCare App works with Oticon Opn S as well as the brand’s other Bluetooth-capable hearing aids. RemoteCare enables you to schedule an appointment and have a video call, audio call, or text-messaging session with your provider. Your provider can make real-time adjustments to your hearing aids while in a remote session. And your provider can adjust the settings as many times as you want during your virtual appointment. The Oticon RemoteCare App works with both iPhones and Android smartphones.
RemoteCare was available first outside the US, but was launched here on March 25, 2020. If you wear Oticon Opn S hearing aids, be sure to check with your provider to see if RemoteCare is something they are set up to offer.
Remote care for Costco hearing aids
Many people save money on brand-name hearing aids by getting their hearing tests and hearing aids from Costco. Unfortunately, Costco does not currently offer remote hearing care services. However, because many of its hearing aids are manufactured by established hearing aid manufacturers who offer remote care for hearing aids sold by audiologists, Costco may potentially offer remote care in the future, especially if periods of sheltering at home are extended.
Remote care for hearing aids you buy online
If you buy your hearing aids online from a web-based provider rather than from an audiologist, you may also receive teleaudiology services. Most online providers sell pre-programmed hearing aids, sometimes with several settings offering varying degrees of amplification. Others offer “self-fitting” models that you set up yourself using a smartphone app. Online hearing aids are often less costly than the premium models fitted by audiologists, but lacking the in-office hearing test, initial face-to-face consultation, and REM testing, it’s more of a crap shoot.