With over 360 million people worldwide with disabling hearing loss, and a shortage of ear and hearing clinicians, innovative solutions are required to deliver hearing rehabilitation. The most effective method of rehabilitation is by hearing aids.
However, there are significant barriers to accessing services for diagnosis and rehabilitation of hearing loss. In developing countries the number of audiologists is extremely low. In developed countries many people face barriers of distance and mobility. For example, people in rural and remote areas need to travel long distance to services. People in fulltime work are time poor, finding it difficult to take time of work for a series of appointments. These barriers contribute to the very low uptake of hearing aids by those with hearing loss, reported to be only about 15%.
Tele-health is the use of computer and telecommunications technologies to provide health services remotely. Doctors, allied health workers and patients need not be in the same room, but communicate via a video-conferencing system. Equipment at remote sites can be controlled over an internet connection.
Ear Science is involved in a translational research project to develop and test methods for remotely managing patients with hearing aids. Hearing aids will be programmed via an internet connection. Video-conferencing software allows an audiologist and patient to communicate about setting up the hearing aids to suit their needs, and the discuss problems the patient may be having. The study aims to show that this service produce similar outcomes for people with hearing aids.
These innovations have the potential to provide hearing rehabilitation services to many people currently unable to access these services, and increase the currently low uptake of hearing aids in the community.
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