How Audiology Professionals Can Serve Patients Despite Coronavirus Restrictions
AudiologyOnline: Audiology professionals have faced an unprecedented challenge for almost a year now due to Covid-19. What measures did you implement in order to continue providing service to your patients during this time (e.g., online appointments)?
Dr. Steven Battaglia: On the medical practice side, we cut back on offering hearing testing at the same time as our initial visits. We interviewed the patients, examined and cleaned their ears, then scheduled them for a separate return visit for diagnostic audiology. This was a significant change, made necessary by the imperative of keeping people safely distanced from one another. The audiologists implemented new sterilization and social distancing procedures to stay in accordance with local regulations, and also began to offer remote hearing aid programming, and remote hearing aid evaluations. Patients appreciated flexibility in terms of offering different convenient options to drop off or mail in their hearing devices if they did want to physically come into the office.
AudiologyOnline: Have you held any consultations using platforms like Zoom? If so, have you run into any issues due to your patients’ hearing challenges or technological difficulties?
Dr. Battaglia: We found that telemedicine for the diagnosis and management of otologic conditions is not ideal. As an Otolaryngologist the hands-on aspect is important. Binocular otomicroscopy to examine the ear, clear the ear canal, and assess the middle ear obviously cannot be performed remotely. Tuning fork exams cannot be done through a screen. That being said, we have held some new patient consultations using HIPAA-compliant video conferencing. The technical difficulties seemed to outweigh the hearing challenges, but we gave our patients written instructions prior to their video calls which seemed to help make the sessions go more smoothly.
AudiologyOnline: What is your opinion on the effectiveness of telehealth options? If you are using them, do you plan to continue using some or all, even after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted?
Dr. Kevin Ivory: Telehealth is going to remain a small but important option for our patients. It works best for established patients with chronic problems. This translates to those who have already been fit with their hearing aids. These follow-up telehealth video calls with our established patients is for questions or concerns they might have, as well as remotely programming their hearing instruments. We plan to continue remote hearing aid programming to those established hearing aid users who for whatever reason request a remote session.
AudiologyOnline: Are you back in the office at all yet? If so, please share what the “new normal” there has been like with regards to conducting daily business.
Dr. Battaglia: Yes, in California we are deemed an essential business, so we never closed. At this point, our "new normal" is essentially how it was prior to the pandemic, with the exception of a lot more disinfecting and social distancing.
AudiologyOnline: Are there any specific apps, software, or online services you can recommend to other practitioners?
Dr. Ivory: We would recommend offering online appointment scheduling through your website—there are a variety of options for this. Additionally, we also highly recommend fitting new hearing aid users with Bluetooth®-enabled hearing aids that have the software and ability to connect to their audiologist for remote programming sessions. To make this work, the audiologist also needs the appropriate software and training on their end to be able to connect up to their patients' devices, all while video conferencing with them at the same time.
AudiologyOnline: What other tips would you like to offer your peers for serving their patients during this pandemic?
Dr. Ivory: Be flexible and get comfortable utilizing telehealth video conferencing, as some patients are now accustomed to communicating with their doctors and audiologists from the comfort of their own homes. Many may prefer the video conferencing route when viable rather than heading physically to your office even after the pandemic ends.