Remote vs in-person hearing services: National Acoustic Laboratories research shows clinical outcomes remain the same
Research conducted by the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), Hearing Australia’s research division, has confirmed that certain types of remote hearing services can deliver the same clinical outcomes as those delivered through in-person hearing services.
The research, conducted by NAL researcher David Allen, analysed the effect of shifting to tele-audiology as a service delivery mode for hearing health care due to COVID-19. The findings indicate that clinical outcomes from remote follow-up appointments were the same as those from face-to-face follow-up appointments, suggesting that healthcare was not compromised by the remote nature of the service.
“While motivated by the need to reduce infection risk during the pandemic, remote appointments also afford the flexibility, speed and convenience of not having to travel to a clinic to receive necessary follow-up consultation with a hearing health care professional. This and other research at NAL suggests that patients could benefit from remote hearing services even when the pandemic is over,” says Dr Brent Edwards, NAL Director.
The study involved 102 participants, all Hearing Australia clients. Approximately half were seen entirely in-person and the other half received a remote follow-up by telephone or video. Outcomes were self-reported and included hearing aid use, benefit, satisfaction, residual disability and social isolation.
While quantitative data was collected on clinical outcomes, qualitative interviews were also conducted to explore personal preferences for in-person or remote services.
“Our study found that two-thirds of participants expressed a preference for in-person appointments, however we expect preference for remote services to increase as people gain more experience with telehealth and technological competence increases among older Australians. Other research at NAL has shown that clinicians who have little experience with telehealth are sceptical of its benefit, but those clinicians who do have experience with telehealth are quite positive towards its use with patients,” says Brent.
For Hearing Australia clients, like sixty-eight-year-old Christopher Rawlins, tele-audiology services were a ‘lifeline’ during lockdown and have now become a convenient way of staying connected.
“I was impressed with the way in which my local Hearing Australia centre had programmed my hearing aid remotely in line with my latest hearing test results. I was self-isolating when COVID-19 hit and my audiologist was there to help at every step along the way, online and on the phone. So, all I needed to do was arrive and collect my hearing aid without having an appointment,” says Christopher.
“I’m back talking to my daughter and grandkids on FaceTime, I can also enjoy listening to music and keep up to date with the latest news,” adds Christopher.
Remote follow-up appointments are currently claimable for eligible clients from the Hearing Services Program* under a relaxation of requirements since COVID-19. Data from the study would suggest that continuing this arrangement would give Australians greater flexibility with regards to how they receive hearing services, without sacrificing clinical benefit.
“Now we know that clinical outcomes aren’t adversely affected by remote follow-ups on the phone, we could also explore the effectiveness of other kinds of remote tools, like video telepresence and text, and also the effectiveness of remote services for other types of appointments,” says Melanie Ferguson, head of NAL’s Audiological Science department.
A full copy of the report is available here.
*Conditions apply under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.
About Hearing Australia
For over 70 years, Hearing Australia has been helping Australians rediscover the joy of sound. Its purpose is to provide world leading research and hearing services for the wellbeing of all Australians. Hearing Australia operates in 170 permanent hearing centres as well as visiting sites across Australia and is the nation’s largest provider of government-funded hearing services for children, young adults up to 26, eligible adults with complex communication needs, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, pensioners and veterans.
Alaid, A. &. (2017). Patients' Adoption of WSN-Based Smart Home Healthcare Systems: An Integrated Model of Facilitators and Barriers. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 60(1), 4-23.
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