Staff Standpoint | August 2022 Hearing Review
WHO holds first meeting to address compatibility issues for those with hearing loss
As the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, medical facilities closed their doors to in-person appointments. And, when practitioners did reopen, only the most urgent cases were seen in person, with most patients forced into “virtual-only” provider meetings. Although telehealth services have been available for many years, terms such as telemedicine, telehealth, and tele-audiology suddenly became standard in the public lexicon.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines telehealth as the “delivery of health care services, where patients and providers are separated by distance. Telehealth uses Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to exchange information for diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries, researching, and evaluating, and continuing education of health professionals.” Telehealth can contribute to achieving universal health coverage (UHC) in countries by improving access to quality and cost-effective health services for patients regardless of their setting. It is essential for those who live in remote areas, vulnerable groups, and aging populations.1
For people with disabilities, this new healthcare service method posed many unanticipated challenges. People with hearing loss were already dealing with a unique set of communication issues from the forced social distancing and mask mandates. Many audiologists and hearing healthcare providers had to quickly modify their clinics and invest in systems and software to meet this new way of providing patient care.
The tele-audiology market has grown significantly, successfully adapting to the new remote patient care needs. The evidence suggests that tele-audiology is a viable service delivery model, and the latest remote hearing screening, diagnostic testing, intervention, and rehabilitation devices have proven reliable and effective. The benefits of tele-audiology include improved access to care, increased follow-up rates, and reduced travel time and costs. However, issues remain, such as delivery challenges and meeting all state and federal licensure and reimbursement regulations.2
In June 2022, the WHO and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) launched the first Telehealth Services Meeting to address the new standards for telehealth visits. These new standards are expected to benefit people with disabilities and those suffering from hearing loss. Today, most telehealth platforms are not compatible with devices needed for persons with hearing disabilities, lacking captioning or volume controls in video conferencing, which impedes the deaf or hard-of-hearing ability to communicate with health professionals virtually.1
To address this, the WHO and ITU jointly developed a global standard for the accessibility of telehealth services. This standard provides a list of technical requirements that telehealth platforms must have to ensure accessible telehealth service provision. The requirements are intended for adoption by the member states as regulations or legislation, and voluntary implementation by healthcare professionals and manufacturers is expected.1
The telehealth market is projected to grow from USD 90.74 billion in 2021 to USD 636.38 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 32.1% in the forecast period, 2021-2028.3
—Kathryn Sutherland, Director of Business Intelligence
- World Health Organization (WHO) website. WHO-ITU global standard for accessibility of telehealth services. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240050464.
- D’Onofrio KL, Zeng F-G. Tele-audiology: Current state and future directions. Frontiers in Digital Health. 2022;3(788103):1-11.
- Telehealth market size, share, and Covid-19 impact analysis. Fortune Business Insights report. https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/telehealth-market-101065. Published September 2021.