As I imagine the future of Audiology, it seems inevitable that eSolutions will be a part of the landscape. These days, we can hardly do anything without an app – to schedule a haircut, to grocery shop, to greet someone standing at the door bell. As app engagement becomes ubiquitous across almost all aspects of life, including healthcare, our patients will come to expect direct control over their own devices and greater ease of engagement with and accessibility to Audiologists.
Many manufacturers are starting to offer apps and the first Phonak eSolutions are already on the market, allowing audiologists to provide remote fine-tuning consults and track patient satisfaction with their devices as they experience hearing in their most valued real-life environments. It all sounds good and yet, Audiologists hesitate. Do we fear the worst– that patients will modify their own fittings such that hearing performance is diminished?… Will technology distance us from patients, diminishing the value of a professional consultation?… Will technology replace us altogether? What we have seen in PARC research and in-market pilots is that these fears are largely unfounded.
Better outcomes with on-the-spot adjustments
Patients perceive additional value in the increased access that comes with connecting remotely with their Audiologist to resolve issues without having to come into the office. In some cases, even better outcomes are achieved when the audiologist can remote into the exact scene where a patient is struggling, make adjustments while the patient is simultaneously testing the new settings out, and can confirm on-the-spot that the problem has been resolved.
Additionally, when research subjects were given additional control over their own devices through a fine-tuning app, lab measures indicate that their performance was the same on average as the clinician-driven settings. Even more surprisingly, in blinded comparisons, subjects reliably preferred their own fine-tuned settings in most acoustic environments. When asked about their favorite controls within the fine tuning app, the adjustment of noise cancelling and “speech focus” or the beamformer were deemed patient favorites.
This was an interesting learning because Phonak generally takes a conservative approach to signal processing at first fit to preserve naturalness. The adjustments made by subjects in real life and their reported preferences in qualitative interviews indicated that in some scenes, they preferred stronger activations of these features.
Reported psycho-social benefits
One final insight from our work in this area was a powerful learning for me. It was how these technologies made patients feel. While I worried about whether they would tweak their hearing aid a decibel or two too low, they experimented with hearing in their real world. What they reported back was astounding psycho-social benefits: “ I am so much more confident about going into new situations! …There is much less anxiety with my hearing, knowing I have this app in my pocket… I love the flexibility…”.
We know patients can be resistant to hearing care because of the perception that hearing loss is a sign of aging, poor health or disability, but the additional control afforded by eSolutions increased confidence and sense of well-being. It increased their willingness to re-engage in new and potentially challenging hearing situations. Rather than risk poorer hearing performance, more control and access via apps might give patients the confidence to stay actively engaged in even the trickiest hearing environments.
Increased confidence has a ripple effect
If my patient has more confidence in her hearing, it may encourage her to re-engage in a raucous weekly card game with friends. The benefits of confidence in her communication allows her to maintain connections in social networks, stimulating the brain with new challenges. And my patient may even go get her nails done for that card game, increasing physical activity that week. When we think holistically about how hearing care can provide value in the future, eSolutions might be an essential piece of that puzzle. And now there is an app for that!
To find out more about Phonak smart apps and solutions designed to connect you with your patients, visit our website.
Christine Jones’ recorded webinar on this same topic is available on Phonak Learning (accessible in participating countries). For more information on all eAudiology webinars, please visit https://learning.phonakpro