Teleaudiology & Covid-19: The next big step towards Hearables
Posted 2nd December 2020by Adam Chell
The past 9 months have been challenging for almost everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc worldwide. However, in times of difficulty we as humans show incredible versatility and we often see huge leaps in technology particularly relating to medicine. Hearing technology has been no exception.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen a huge upsurgence in teleaudiology, and for the first time, wider acceptance of selling hearing aids online and over-the-counter (OTC) product e.g. hearables.
Teleaudiology is the use of computers and phones to deliver hearing care without the need for a face-to-face appointment. Teleaudiology has been around for a long time but the value was never really appreciated until recently. With teleaudiology, audiologists are able to conduct hearing screening, video otoscopy, and even prescribe hearing aids accurately. Audiologists can also offer a wide range of support such as with tinnitus or dizziness issues. Now that audiologists are able to start seeing clients face-to-face again many have returned to normal but we have seen new businesses born from Covid that are completely remote services such as Adjust Hearing. Businesses such as these will innevitably shape the future of hearing care and will make hearing aids much more accessible both in terms of cost and convenience.
Buying hearing aids online
Buying hearing aids online has always been a bit of a taboo subject amongst audiologists but recent studies are showing that if done properly, telehealth can be as good as, if not better, than instore clinic appointments. A word of caution though, buying hearing aids online should be exercised cautiously. You should always have access to an audiologist, either remotely or in a clinic. If the online provider offers no appointment prior to dispensing the hearing aids then I would avoid purchasing from them. It is almost impossible to determine an individuals requirements through an uploaded hearing test alone. When purchasing online you may also struggle to get support locally on the high street as many providers refuse to take on care from hearing aids purchased outside of their own organisation.
Over The Counter (OTC) Products aka Hearables
OTC hearing aids and hearables have been on the table for some time but in the UK they have failed to make way for one reason or another. However, Covid-19 has helped the manufacturers to take a brave step forward to start discussing new and exciting self-fit devices. Hearing aids such as the Sonova Shift, which is only available in select countries at present will inevitbly makes it’s way over to the UK which will make accessing premium level hearing technology much more affordable as you would not be reliant on seeing an audiologist.
I suspect as they being to release OTC products in the UK they will be registered as medical devices which means they will still be protected and can only be sold legally by HCPC registered hearing aid dispensers. This helps to overcome the legislation and will allow time for research and the evidence to build to determine if the risk of harm is acceptable. I mention risk of harm because there is a chance that, by not seeing an audiologist, an individual may not get a diagnosis of a problem in one or both ears. This may result in unnecessary complications due to delays in treatment.
End of 2020
We have seen one of the strangest years in modern history but there is always a silver lining. It has helped to change attitudes towards the use of teleaudiology as an alternative to face-to-face appointments. Audiologists and clients are realising that teleaudiology is a safe and acceptable alternative to delivering hearing care. We should hopefully see this momentum continue and I hope by the end of next year in the UK we will see one of the first OTC products developed by one of the leading hearing aid manufacturers.
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