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Department of Veterans Affairs Leverages Telehealth to Provide Audiology Services

by Rick Dinger

Knowing that all healthcare is local, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been a pioneer in the adoption of sophisticated telehealth technologies to provide Veterans convenient care options in their communities. In fact, real-time telehealth is now a standard VA service offering.

Building on its model, the VA continues to expand the scope of healthcare delivered through remote technologies, responding to the unique needs of the patient population.

For example, teleaudiology is part of the administration’s comprehensive hearing-health services.

The need for diagnosis and treatment of hearing disorders is especially prevalent among those who have served in the military and have been exposed to high noise levels while on duty, including gunfire, aircraft, heavy machinery and more. Tinnitus—ringing in the ears—and hearing loss are the top two service-connected disabilities among Veterans, with more than 2.7 million currently receiving disability benefits for the conditions.

Treatment for tinnitus and hearing loss can significantly improve a Veteran’s emotional health and quality of life, leading to better social connections and personal safety. However, the VA reports that only about one in four individuals who would benefit from hearing aid devices use them.

By delivering specialized audiology assessment and rehabilitation through synchronous telehealth technologies, the VA can enhance utilization of hearing-health services, make the care process friendly and convenient for Veterans, and ensure that Veterans are able to maintain their improved hearing with follow-up visits close to home. Working in tandem with trained technicians, remote audiologists are able to interact with their patients in a high-tech way via video conferencing, while still connecting with them personally for high-touch, individualized care.

Teleaudiology delivers accurate diagnostic testing, hearing-aid fitting and programming, as well as ongoing maintenance, such as routine adjustments. With industry-standard testing devices integrated into the teleaudiology station, remote audiology professionals can test hearing in real time and provide auditory rehabilitation education that optimizes patients’ residual hearing.

Deploying remote technologies also has the benefit of reducing travel time for specialists, allowing the VA to expand the reach of providers into satellite clinics, rural areas and communities that otherwise might experience provider shortages. Increasing access to specialists such as audiologists increases patient satisfaction and adherence to care plans as well. In the audiology specialty in particular, the use of telehealth has decreased the rate of no-shows because patients don’t want to drive three hours for a one hour meeting and have to deal with traffic and parking hassles.

As the VA evolves to meet the needs of today’s Veterans, the administration is also keeping an eye on the future outlook. The millennial generation—now comprised of 80 million Americans—represents a significant population with a preference for convenient, digital technology. By 2037, the VA expects the number of millennials it serves to equal the number of baby boomers. Already their impact on the healthcare landscape is being felt, as millennials demand the same convenient, timely access to healthcare that they experience across other consumer-focused industries.

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