Staff Standpoint | April 2020 Hearing Review

By Karl Strom

As this edition of Hearing Review was heading to press, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 or “COVID-19”) seized the public’s attention and caused widespread anxiety, cancellation of most events including the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) convention, Wall Street to crater, travel restrictions, and grocery stores to run short on (of all things, but perhaps somewhat illustrative of panic) toilet paper. 

Karl Strom

Given that the largest population served in hearing healthcare is seniors—and diabetes and heart disease are comorbidities associated with hearing loss—hearing care professionals should take particular care to ensure they do not become exposed to and/or become unwitting vectors for the coronavirus. In short, audiologists, hearing aid specialists, ENTs, and their staff members should be particularly vigilant in washing hands, avoiding unnecessary patient contact, and following other National Institutes for Health (NIH) and CDC guidelines for healthcare professionals during this time. 

Recently, the CDC published an excellent summary document titled: “What Healthcare Personnel Should Know about Caring for Patients with Confirmed or Possible COVID-19 Infection” on its website. There also exist several good general infection control articles and webinars specific to hearing healthcare, and I highly recommend Oaktree Products’ “Infection Control Resource” webpage.

A couple things from reading the CDC and NIH websites jump out: Clinicians should immediately implement recommended infection prevention and control practices if a patient is suspected of having COVID-19. They should also notify infection control personnel at their facility and their state or local health department if a patient is classified as a “patient under investigation” (PUI) for COVID-19.

Guarding Against COVID-19

Robert Tysoe, a veteran consultant to the hearing healthcare field who specializes in physician-related interactions and referrals, recently sent an email to his clients with practical advice regarding COVID-19 precautions:

  • Review the NIH document “Coronovirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” so you are able to guide your staff, your patients, and your families in the upcoming coronavirus season.
  • Ask all patients to wash their hands prior to being seen or touched by a hearing healthcare provider. 
  • Advise patients over the phone to stay home and/or contact their physician if they feel unwell prior to visiting your practice. Likewise, advise all staff members to stay home if they have a fever, cough, or feel unwell. 
  • Add a question to your patient history intake form that allows the patient to divulge whether they are currently experiencing or being treated for a fever, cough, virus, chest infection, and current medications taken. 
  • Caution is advised for patients over 65 years in poor health who are smokers/ex-smokers with a history of respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, COPD, asthma, and allergies.
  • Identify whether the patient resides alone or with others, and if they live in a patient care facility. Crowded living conditions facilitate the spread of the virus.
  • Advise your Physician Liaison to follow all front desk directions explicitly when making face-to-face calls at physicians’ offices.
  • We are in unknown territory here, and it is advisable to stay current, and be prepared. 

Tysoe reminds that the NIH and CDC Guidelines are more complete than the above, and it is recommended that you review them carefully. 

Original citation for this article: Strom K. Coronavirus: The uber-disrupter. Hearing Review. 2020;27(4):6.