Audiology Applications of Tele-Medicine

Technology and clinical applications for tele-medicine have been around for many years. Initially, physicians in remote areas would fax symptoms, signs, and test data for challenging patients to experts at major teaching institutions for a second opinion on the diagnosis and guidance on appropriate medical management. Radiologic studies (e.g., X-rays, CT scans) for a patient in a rural town would be viewed by a radiology specialist in a big city. The first applications involved asynchronous tele-health techniques. Data were collected from the patient. The patient was sent home, while the data were sent to another site for later analysis. The technique was also known as "store-and-forward". With advancing technology (e.g., computer based procedures and broadband internet connectivity), tele-health shifted toward synchronous or real-time applications with ongoing analysis and interpretation of patient data as it was collected by an expert in a remote location. Despite the abundance of creative applications of tele-health technology in medicine, there were for many years no applications in audiology. We are now witnessing the first serious attempts to provide clinical services with the assistance of tele-health concepts, technology, and techniques.

An internet search will turn up many articles on tele-health in audiology. We are past the validation stage (comparing the quality of data collected and analyzed on-site versus in a remote location). In fact, at the 2009 and 2010 AAA Conventions along with an international group of colleagues I participated in sessions that included lectures on tele-audiology and live demonstrations of hearing assessment of a person in South Africa performed by an audiologist at the Convention site (Dallas Texas in 2009 and San Diego in 2010). The next challenge is education of audiologists on tele-health techniques, design of tele-health compatible audiologic equipment, and assurance that audiologists providing services via tele-health are compliant with licensing laws and billing practices. Of course, one major motivation for increasing tele-health applications in audiology is provision of high quality hearing health care services to the many millions of persons in the world who at this time have no access to audiology.

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting potential of tele-audiology, please the articles coauthored with an expert on the topic, Dr. De Wet Swanepoel of the University of Pretoria in South Africa. One is entitled "A Systematic Review of Tele-Health Applications in Audiology" and the other is "Tele-Health in Audiology: The need and potential to reach undeserved communities.".

James W. Hall III       |