Telehealth resources and tips for audiologists

March 31, 2020

In this video, Christina Callahan, Au.D. offers tips and resources to help audiogists serve their patients remotely.

The benefits of telehealth are clearer than ever

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic I wanted to share some tips and resources to help the audiology community adapt and maintain quality services. I have served thousands of people utilizing remote audiology and you can too. Many of us serve a patient population that is amongst the most vulnerable during this time, so it is more important than ever to make our services accessible remotely.

Video chat, phone calls, email, text, and video tutorials are powerful tools for remote fittings and follow-up service. It also empowers patients to actively participate in their hearing health.

Although this article discusses HIPAA, I am not providing legal advice on behalf of Lively, or myself. Make sure to check with an attorney if you have questions about how telehealth laws have changed as a result of COVID-19.

Remote care considerations

At Lively, both the audiology team and the technical support team provide services every day. If you work with an assistant or a trained front-office staff, you should consider having them work with patients on tasks like changing batteries and basic cleaning.

When considering remote programming, keep in mind that not all devices have remote programming capabilities. And, if they do, you may need to "activate" this feature in person before being able to access them remotely.

HIPAA and non-HIPAA video conference platforms

Video conferencing is a great way to maintain face to face interactions for the personalized care we all know is so important to our patient's success.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government has temporarily suspended certain requirements under HIPAA. Providers are temporarily able to connect with patients through HIPAA-compliant and non-compliant channels. You can visit the HHS website for more information.

HIPAA compliant
Zoom, Doxy, Theraplatform
Video conferencing with live chat, real-time captioning, and screen sharing. While these options charge subscriptions and fees, some offer free trials.

Free options
Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom free trial
Video conferencing with live chat, real-time captioning, and screen sharing. Many of these options are not HIPAA compliant.

FaceTime, Google Duo
Simpler interface with just video and audio. Note that FaceTime is only for iPhone users and you will need to use a phone number. Not HIPAA compliant.

Most of these applications allow you to schedule meetings that will automatically send a calendar invite and a link to the video. You can generate a link to send separately.

Best practices

Video calls have a different rhythm than an in-person conversation and you may need to adapt your counseling style. Go slow, show one thing at a time, take pauses and ask for affirmation they have understood and can demonstrate a skill before moving on to the next. Do not assume what a patient can and cannot do.

The challenges that come with remote care are not entirely different from traditional practices, the main drivers of time are counseling, putting the devices on properly, and troubleshooting.

Education is the key to how telehealth empowers patients. For example, during a cleaning, focus on discussing ‘why and when it's important to clean' rather than ‘how'. Specific step by step instructions can be accomplished by sending a video that they can watch as many times and as often as they need.

The same concept applies to insertion and bluetooth issues. Front loading and setting expectations is important for an efficient telehealth program, especially when working with bluetooth technology.

Telehealth also gives us the opportunity to efficiently train patients with shorter, more frequent sessions, on an as-needed basis. It gives us more opportunity to check-in and be able to gather and track outcomes and really make sure they are reaching their hearing goals. If you do not already, I recommend choosing a validation measure to include in your telehealth program.

I know that being ‘hands-on' is a big concern with remote care. Although we can't physically touch and ‘do' things directly for patients, it shifts our mindset towards education and being effective teachers. It is our job to help patients be independent and enable them to lead their own experience with us as their guide.

Instructional videos

Instructional videos are a great way to offer self service or give patients visual cues for coaching. There are many resources already available on YouTube that you can rely on in the short- or long-term. Lively incorporates how-to-videos into our service model, allowing clients to learn new skills as they view the content at their own pace.

You can also use your smartphone to make a specific video for your patient's issue. Check out Lively's YouTube channel as a reference for you or your patients.

Remote programming for hearing aids

Most of the major hearing aid manufacturers have telehealth capabilities in their most recent product platforms. There are two main things that you must check before using them.

First, check that your patient has a compatible smartphone. Second, check that this feature is activated. For most systems, a cloud connection must be made while the hearing aids are physically connected in your office.

Most of the major manufacturers offer remote programming. You'll need to contact them directly for an updated list on the specific products compatible with these platforms:

  • Resound Remote Assist accessed through the Smart 3D app
  • Signia TeleCare accessed through the Signia App
  • Phonak Remote Support accessed through myPhonak smart app
  • Starkey Hearing Care Anywhere accessed through the Thrive app
  • Oticon RemoteCare accessed through Oticon Remote Care App
  • Widex Remote Care accessed through the Widex Remote Care app

You're now ready for your first remote appointment.
I hope this was a helpful intro to quick and simple remote services. If you would like more information or have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at [email protected]. I am happy to help!