In the last article, I spoke about why the business of Audiology needed to change. External pressures, internal pressures and a changing customer will force changes upon us. In this article, I would like to do a bit of navel-gazing about what that change will look like in relation to what we do every day.
Technology Changing Processes
I think the overarching difference will be in our workflows and how we work. I think technology will have a profound effect on what we do and how we do it. Many different communication technologies have been mainstream outside our profession for many years, think Skype calls, Google Hangouts.
These technologies have become accepted by consumers as valid means of communication with brands, tech support and service providers for a long time. This movement laid the groundwork for TeleHealth as we now know it and now Tele Audiology.
I think remote follow up and aftercare appointments will form a significant part of Audiology 2.0. During the initial introduction period it will be a factor for the few, however, as with other technology offerings, I believe virtual appointments will soon become the accepted norm.
We are already seeing many hearing aid brands devote real effort to remote follow up. They are doing so because there is a demand for it among consumers. We in the hearing healthcare profession need to listen.
This changing paradigm will change our workflows and the practice model we follow. Moving forward, I can imagine one in two of every appointment will be a remote session. For instance, the process undertaken during a six month follow up could comfortably fit a remote session, while a more in-depth twelve-month appointment may not be suitable at present.
Technology will evolve and change that though. At present, we can’t inspect an ear canal remotely, nor can we truly accurately test hearing easily without significant capital investment.
However, perhaps HearX, the makers of the HearScope, will bring out a small app and a camera phone attachment shortly that will solve the ear canal issue?
There are also many hearing test apps available right now, again HearX has introduced a pretty strong one with accurate results. The issue with all of these things right now is that they are disparate in nature.
For us to use them, we need to stitch them together. Again, I believe changing technology will solve these stumbling blocks. Within five years it may be the case that we can use an integrated technology ecosystem to accurately scan test a remote Patient’s hearing and check their ear canal remotely cheaply and efficiently.
Remote Testing & Fitting
To be really honest, I think that cheap technology to offer remote testing and fitting will come soon enough, once someone works out the way to overcome the bone conduction testing issue. In fact, is audiometry the best way to test the ability to hear speech?
I mean it is a blunt object at best because if it weren’t, we would be able to test in 1dB shifts once we had found a general threshold. The other thing is that we are dealing with speech, so are thresholds for pure tones really what we need?
That is a debate for another day, but imagine if someone actually invented a better test that allowed us to really focus on the perception of speech and how we could correct it? I bring it up because things are changing rapidly and this may well change too.
The real lesson is that we must stay agile, we must be ready to adapt, prepared to adopt the changes and integrate them into our ongoing practice.
Hearing Solutions in Audiology 2.0
I believe the solutions we offer will also change dramatically. The hearing aid brands we deal with right now are considering how they will improve the functionality they provide to appeal to modern consumers.
Brands we don’t currently deal with are doing the same. I mean the very concept of what a hearing aid is, and does, is changing. As that movement matures, we will see dramatic changes in functionality, changes that may also change both what we do and what we offer.
I think that we will be dealing with more brands, we will offer those devices in different ways than we do today. The services involved in the provision of those devices will also be different.
New Products, New Opportunities
We can see these new product types as a threat and then treat them like that. However, and this is the real problem, consumers won’t care what you think. We need to understand these products and search for the opportunities they may provide.
They will provide us with opportunities; we have to work out what the possibilities are. In the next article, I want to look at what I think the changing services we offer will change and what the possible opportunities for new services are.