The world has changed, driven by the required social distancing caused by COVID-19. All of our lives have been disrupted but hearing health must remain a priority. While many audiologist offices and clinics are closed, there are still ways you can continue to support your patients from a distance. Whether it is supplying spare batteries, offering remote advice, or providing communication tips, your patients continue to rely on your expertise, advice and care.
How can you best support your patients during this time of physical distancing? Here are my suggestions.
Stay available via video calls
Patients still need your care, so please be available via video conference call. Many platforms exist including Skype, Google Meet and Zoom. Whichever service you use, please make sure captioning is available so that communication is easier for you and your patients. Skype currently offers free auto-captioning for one-on-one calls and Google will be making its Meet calls (with excellent auto-captioning) free for everyone in the next few weeks. Zoom supports third-party captioning, but only on its paid plans. Technology can be intimidating for your patients, so please be flexible in using the platform that works best for each patient.
Trouble shoot hearing aid issues from a distance
Social distancing makes hearing aid repair more challenging. Help patients trouble shoot any problems via video conference call. If the issue cannot be resolved this way, consider using a drop-off service. Your patients can stay in their car while someone from your team comes to pick up the device. If the repair is quick, the patient can wait safely in their car. For a larger repair, a curbside pickup can by scheduled. Be sure to follow CDC guidance on physical distancing and make sure that devices are returned clean and ready to use. Use clear window masks if you have them so that your patients can see your lips for lipreading.
Embrace remote programming
Many manufacturers offer remote programming for hearing devices. Become familiar with these possibilities and educate your patients about how adjustments can be made to their hearing aids from the comfort of their own home. Older patients with mobility issues or those who live in remote areas may prefer this process to the typical way of doing things.
Share workaround ideas
This is a terrible time for a hearing aid to break, but chances are some of your patients will have difficulty, particularly if social distancing extends much longer. Teach your patients about workarounds including high quality OTC options like Bose Hearphones and sound amplifier apps like Ear Machine. These options will work best for patients with mild to moderate hearing loss but may be better than nothing in a pinch for people with all degrees of loss. Speech-to-text apps like Otter.ai or Live Transcribe (only on Android) are helpful for people with all degrees of hearing loss.
Send batteries in a pinch
Hopefully your patients have adequate supplies of batteries on hand, but as time drags on, they may need spares. Offer to mail extra batteries to your patients if needed or recommend reputable mail order services for hearing aid batteries like hearOclub.
Provide information and support
Hearing loss can lead to isolation in the best of times, but with social distancing, mask wearing and video conference calls, the risk is greater. Help your patients stay connected with family and friends by sharing communication best practices with them and their families. Help them prepare should they need to seek medical assistance at this challenging time. Hearing Loss Association of America has free Hearing Loss & Covid-19 Resources available on their website that you can share with your patients.
Respond to emergencies
Prepare recommendations and a resource list you can share with patients should they need assistance for hearing emergencies like sudden hearing loss. Coordinate with local doctors who can offer the necessary care should an emergency occur.
You may not be able to see your patients in person during this time of COVID-19, but you can continue to provide assistance, support and quality care. Your patients will be grateful for your efforts. Thank you for all that you are doing during this trying time. Please stay safe!