What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine uses technology to bring health services to patients wherever they are—whether they're sitting on their living room couch or taking a lunch break at the office. Using everyday devices such as laptops, desktops, or smartphones, doctors can administer patient evaluations, treatments, and follow-ups over the internet, eliminating the need for most in-person office visits. The result is a more convenient form of care that expands access for millions more.
Power to the patients
Telemedicine is utilized in wide range of medical specialties, including cardiology, dermatology, psychiatry, neurology, and speech pathology. It's been used to help post-op patients avoid injury and infection, to prescribe personalized dermatological treatments, and even to address the growing demand for discreet, on-demand mental health services.
One of the main benefits cited by its proponents is increased patient autonomy. By increasing efficiency throughout the process, telemedicine fixes many of the common healthcare problems that make patients feel helpless—like the hours spent in waiting rooms, the rushed appointments, the brushed-off requests, and the endless games of phone tag. Instead, it gives patients more time with the doctor, more ways to communicate, and more control over their health.
Telemedicine is also a revelation for the millions of people living in remote areas who are unable to access the treatments they need. Instead of trekking miles to the nearest specialist at great expense, they can use their phone or laptop to see a right doctor, right away.
Raising the bar
Many healthcare professionals believe telemedicine helps them do their jobs better. It lets them monitor patients' health beyond in-office visits, leading to better outcomes. It also lets them deliver high quality care to more patients in less time (and sometimes with less office space). This can drastically reduce the cost of treatment for both the patient and provider.
So what does this new health frontier mean for hearing care? Frankly, it's a game-changer. Audiologists are increasingly leveraging telemedicine techniques to offer patients unprecedented convenience, accessibility, and cost savings for services ranging from first-time evaluations to long-term hearing device management. This process is called (wait for it…) teleaudiology!
Overcoming the obstacles
According to the CDC, hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the U.S. As a result, the need for hearing healthcare is at an all-time high. Teleaudiology will directly address this demand by drastically expanding options for hearing loss patients—especially for those who are homebound, or living in areas where traditional audiology services are tough to find. Additionally, teleaudiology will allow professionals to serve a greater number patients with greater efficiency, which will translate to more appointment availability and more flexible service hours.
Another big hearing care obstacle is expense; most insurance plans don't cover hearing devices, and out-of-pocket costs (including services) can run between $4,000 and $9,000. Telemedicine is softening that financial blow by eliminating much of the cost associated with traditional office visits while simultaneously reducing the amount of necessary appointments.
Instant calibration = instant gratification
Since many of today's hearing devices are built with remote tuning capabilities, patients will be able to speak with an audiologist via phone and video chat, and get instant hearing device adjustments, when and where they need it.
Picture this: You're at home with the family, watching your favorite TV show. You're still getting used to your hearing devices, so you have the TV volume turned up to compensate. During a commercial break, you receive an adjustment request from your audiologist on your smartphone. You approve it, apply the changes, and by the time the show comes back on, you can hear every word, loud and clear—no volume boost needed. You breathe a sigh of relief (and your family members unplug their ears). That's the magic of teleaudiology.
Technology is transforming the healthcare industry, and audiology and hearing care are the frontline for some of the most exciting advances in telemedicine. The most exciting part? This is just the beginning. If the hearing care industry continues to embrace telemedicine and spread our enthusiasm to patients, the possibilities are endless.