Tele-audiology isn’t new. In fact, it was first conceived in the late 90s. However, recent advancements in technology have made it more realistic for hearing healthcare professionals to offer it as a service delivery method to their patients. And because of this, there are many questions surrounding it. That’s why we’ve decided to pull together 10 frequently asked questions about tele-audiology and provide answers to them.
1. What is the benefit of offering tele-audiology services?
This is a big question deserves a big answer. There are a multitude of benefits to offering tele-audiology services, including having the ability to treat patients with minimal contact, expanding your geographic reach to see more patients, reducing costs and increasing efficiency of hearing care, and much more. Additionally, it simply gives your patients another option for treatment. And who doesn’t love having more options? For more information on benefits, read our blog on whether you should offer tele-audiology services.
2. How many personnel are required to run a successful tele-audiology program?
At minimum, you’ll want to have at least three professionals involved with the program: One clinical audiologist to lead it and oversee tele-audiology services offered, an audiology assistant who can assist with patient encounters and coordinate follow-up care, and an administrator who can field patient calls to determine whether their appointment can be done via teleconference or if it needs to be in person. Of course, additional personnel such as an IT specialist can also be a big help.
3. How much training is required?
Not much, but you should ensure you and everyone involved with the program understands the equipment, what it’s used for, how to use it, and how to properly communicate the details of the service to customers. Of course, training shouldn’t be a one-and-done deal. It should be a continuous process where your team learns more as your program expands. If you’re not sure where to begin, try checking out audiology.org, Hearing Review, and ASHA. All have created or aggregated resources you can use in your training efforts.
4. What are examples of tele-audiology services and solutions?
With a full-fledged tele-audiology program, you can competently perform video otoscopy, hearing screening, hearing aid fittings, tympanometry, ABR, OAE, tinnitus evaluation, and counseling. Some manufacturers of audiology equipment even offer packages that can support all these tests. For instance, the Interacoustics RAS Deluxe package comes with all the following:
- Equinox 2.0 hardware
- Computer, keyboard and mouse
- REM440 REM software
- VSP440 software
- REM speaker
- AC440 audiometer software (including: Counseling screens, ISF440 word list CD, Wave Files, QuickSIN, Bekesy, SISI, Binaural Speech, Langenbeck, HLS, MHA, MLD, TEN test)
- Video Otoscope
- DD450 headphones
- EAR tone 3A audiometric insert phones
- B71 bone conductor complete
- EM400 talkback mic
- MTH400m monitor mic headset
- Patient response switch
- Wall mount kit
- Test battery
- Patch cords & power cable
5. What types of appointments can be done via tele-audiology?
With the right equipment, you can essentially perform any type of test or service you’d be able to conduct in person at your facility. The only thing you won’t be able to do is ear wax removal, for obvious reasons.
6. Can this technology replace an audiologist?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! Tele-audiology solutions are made with the intent of enhancing a hearing care professional’s ability to treat more patients, not replacing them. This technology is merely a tool to help provide another option for a patient to receive hearing care. While some products, such as GSI AMTAS, allow patients to complete a hearing evaluation on their own, there still needs to be an expert to interpret results and consult patients on the right course of action to take to experience the best outcomes.
7. What are HIPAA requirements for a tele-audiology program?
HIPAA requires that all communication between physician and patient be done over a secure platform. Microsoft offers a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) to practitioners if they want to use a HIPAA-complaint Skype for Business video service. This requires each patient to have an Office 365 account linked to Skype for Business, so it is not optimal.
A better option is to use a secure messaging solution that only allows authorized users to have access. These solutions are as easy to operate as commercially available messaging apps. All communications, including video chat, are encrypted to make them unusable if intercepted over a public internet connection. Best of all, it's seamless and free for a patient to create an account and log in.
8. Is this going to cost me a fortune?
Purchasing all the equipment and ensuring it’s set up properly may be a bit costly on the front end, but your potential return on investment is high. Also, the amount of money you can save on overhead is high. For example, freeing up travel expenses of an hour-long drive to a clinic to see several patients. Instead, the audiologist can save the time and money by seeing patients remotely. If you’re traveling like this multiple times per week, adding remote care can mean significant savings.
9. Are enough people open to receiving hearing care over teleconference?
More people are becoming open to the idea of remote hearing care appointments. According to a study conducted by The Hearing Review, 86 percent of respondents saw value in incorporating telehealth into a hearing care regimen. Additionally, 51 percent did not believe their level of hearing loss merited a visit to a professional. Lastly, 37 percent indicated they would be strongly interested in tele-audiology as part of their hearing healthcare treatment.
10. How do I know if I’m ready to implement a tele-audiology program?
Adding a tele-audiology program is a big decision. You’re going to want to assess your needs and readiness. A good place to start would be identifying the right people in your organization to spearhead the program. If you don’t have the right people, then you might want to look into recruiting. Then you should conduct a SWOT analysis of your clinic to help justify the need for tele-audiology. Also, assessing equipment needs is important to understand how much money you’ll need to invest on instrumentation.
Once you’ve completed this pre-planning, you should perform a market analysis to see if tele-audiology makes sense in your area. This will help you better understand the demand before making an investment. If you do find there is a demand, then you should assess if you have the IT resources available to support your tele-audiology program. You’ll need to ensure your internet connection is fast and strong and that all communication is encrypted to stay complaint with HIPAA regulations. If that’s all good, you can move on to building out your team, creating a training program, and purchasing any additional equipment you need for you comprehensive tele-audiology program.
If you’re interested in adding tele-audiology services to your clinic, we can help. Learn more about our comprehensive tele-audiology solutions today!