Teleaudiology as part of your service offering – 7 tips for getting started

Dr. Bec Bennett, clinical and research audiologist from the Ear Science Institute Australia, shares tips to set you up for success when incorporating remote sessions into your clinic’s routine practice.

Teleaudiology can help your clients overcome barriers to accessing your hearing services, such as ongoing COVID fears, work and family responsibilities, distance, and mobility issues.

Research shows that when implemented well, remote services deliver client outcomes equal to in-person sessions.1 Additionally, the majority of clients who try teleaudiology, love it, feel more connected to their audiologist, and prefer teleaudiology over in-person consultations.2

Taking the time to plan ahead, and thoughtfully and carefully select and implement the elements of teleaudiology suitable to your business and team, will help you and your team make the most of technological opportunities.

7 tips to help you get started

  • Get staff buy-in.
    The implementation process can take a bit of time and work. To optimize success, you’ll need staff buy-in.

    Involve key (and influential) staff in key decisions, such as which elements of telecare will be implemented, the software, equipment and procedures that will be adopted and how staff will be trained on the roll out.

    Importantly, engage all staff throughout the process and ensure they feel well trained and supported before they commence provision of the new services.

  • Select teleaudiology elements to be implemented.
    Identify which elements of teleaudiology are most needed within your service offerings. Not all clinical services can be delivered remotely, but there is evidence that most services related to assessment and support can be effectively conducted.1

    For example, you might have clients who are faced with having to drive long distances for multiple appointments, or you might have a low attendance rate for annual review appointments.

    In this case, you might decide to incorporate remote services for hearing aid fitting, fine-tuning and annual review appointments to provide clients with the flexibility of attending these appointments from the comfort of their own home, or workplace.

  • Explore funding implications for delivering these teleaudiology services.
    Requirements for funding differ from state to state, and country to country. It is important to become familiar with funding requirements for the precise location of each of your clinics to determine whether remotely delivered services are eligible for funding.

    Consider reaching out to your local professional organizations, local licensing agencies, or specific third-party payers for information.

  • Develop teleaudiology program workflows.
    Meet with your key staff (clinicians, administrators, managers) and map out how you will deliver teleaudiology services within your current business model.

    Consider the following:
    • Will all clients be offered teleaudiology; if yes – how and when, if no – who will be it be offered to?
    • If a patient requests a teleaudiology visit, what happens next?
    • How is the visit scheduled or triaged?
    • Will clients be ‘on their own’ at the end of their appointment? Or supported by staff (tele-assistants)? What are the booking and cost considerations for these instances?
    • How will appointments be billed?
    • Which clinicians will service clients wanting teleaudiology services? Will all clinical staff be trained in delivering tele services, or will you train hand selected staff to become ‘tele-specialists’?
    • What do staff need to do to prepare for each teleaudiology visit? Do the existing appointment times allow for these extra requirements?
    • What will the follow-up steps be after the visit to make sure all documentation and billing is processed correctly?
    • Walk through some example scenarios to help decide what the steps will be and which staff members is responsible for what.

  • Identify equipment and resources required to deliver these teleaudiology services.
    Depending on the specific services you choose to incorporate into your remote services offerings, you may require specific equipment. You will need to consider the costs, storage, and delivery time for ordering and setting up any new equipment.

    Create any paperwork/materials needed for your program. These may include informed consent forms, waiver forms if funding excludes teleaudiology in your location, or decision-making tools to help staff describe and discuss the tele versus in-person care pathways. Be prepared to adapt these as circumstances dictate.

  • Encourage and support staff training.
    Professional bodies, universities, research institutes and hearing device manufacturers offer a wide range of training programs to help audiologists upskill. For example, see the IDA institute’s “Getting started with teleaudiology” course and Phonak’s training and support on their eAudiology page.

    Not only will the clinicians delivering the teleaudiology services require training, so too will the administration staff and management team.2

    The administration work for all staff may need revising to incorporate teleaudiology services into the clinic operations. For example, reception staff will require training in how to discuss teleaudiology and in-person services with clients when making appointment bookings.

    They may need to screen clients to determine whether they have sufficient skills and access to technology to use teleaudiology. Management staff may wish to adopt tele-specific tools to help monitor client outcomes and satisfaction with services.

  • Figure out how you’ll provide tech support.
    There will be ‘teething problems’ as your staff learn how to navigate the new software and hardware platforms, and there will be clients who will require additional support.

    You might need to train some of your staff to be able to troubleshoot or handle basic tech support questions from clients and colleagues.

For more learning on this topic, I invite you to download the recently published Australian Teleaudiology Guidelines, an evidence-based guide to support the delivery of safe and effective teleaudiology.

To access the Phonak Scheduling decision tree for Remote Support, click here.


References

1.  Eikelboom R, Bennett R, Brennan M. (2021). Tele-audiology: An opportunity for expansion of hearing healthcare services in Australia. Ear Science Institute Australia, Perth, Western Australia.

2. Thrum M, Driscoll C, Keogh T. (2018). Investigating the satisfaction of clinicians and clients in a teleaudiology trial. Journal of Hearing Science; 8(4).

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