A survey has shown that audiologists feel the COVID-19 lockdown has brought about some beneficial changes to care of patients with hearing problems. A summary of the results appears on the University of Manchester’s website.

Dr Gabrielle Saunders, a senior research fellow at The University of Manchester, says findings from the survey of 140 audiologists are a rare positive in the crisis which has caused misery across the world.

The study, published in the International Journal of Audiology, estimates that between May 29 and June 15, just 5% of face-to-face audiology appointments took place in the UK. Many of the appointments were replaced by ‘telecare’ or ‘remote care.’

Most of the telecare appointments, which took place by phone, did not hinder their ability to provide audiological care using standard procedures.

Related Article: Study Shows Benefits and Challenges of Telehealth

Of the audiologists interviewed, nearly all of them said they would carry on working remotely into the future.

Though hearing tests cannot be carried out on the phone and ears can’t be looked into, much of an audiologist’s work involves advising patients. Advice includes about how to best cope with their hearing loss and/or tinnitus, how to use hearing aids, and programming, as well as setting up and repairing of hearing aids.

All of these activities can be carried out by remotely, by phone or video call, combined with prearranging hearing aid drop-offs.

Dr Saunders said: “Telephone calls can be very hard for patients with hearing problems, but at the moment, face-to-face appointments involve the audiologist wearing a mask, which is also difficult. One solution is to have a mixed appointment in which things like a hearing test and ear check are done in person, while other activities are done via phone or video call.

“And it does seem from this study that remote working can improve the care of many—though not all—audiology patients. Many of the audiologists we spoke to were positive about the way of working, believing it was helpful in terms of cost and convenience for patients while not diminishing the quality of care. Other research actually shows patients feel it allows them to communicate more freely in their home surroundings. Programming hearing aids in patients’ homes, rather than the clinic where the acoustics are often very different, means that the settings can be more personalized to the patient’s needs and listening environment.”

She added: “However, more work needs to be carried out in terms of how patients see remote working, which is what we shall be doing in our next study. But in the field of audiology, I hope its use will continue to grow in the NHS as it does seem to beneficial patients.”

Original Paper: Saunders GH, Roughly A. Audiology in the time of COVID-19: practices and opinions of audiologists in the UK. International Journal of Audiology. 2020. DOI: 10.1080/14992027.2020.1814432.

Source: University of Manchester, International Journal of Audiology