Editor's Message: Growing the Demand for Audiology Services

Author: Brian Taylor, Au.D.

For relatively affluent, active, healthy adults with hearing loss between the ages of 70 and 85, audiologists have built an appealing delivery system: Find a local audiologist, make an appointment and go through the process of receiving the necessary services you need. In all likelihood, these services will revolve around the fitting of customizable hearing aids and will be predicated on the patient’s ability to make several office visits over an extended period of time.

For those patients that don’t neatly fit into the categories mentioned above, they may not find the traditional service delivery model all that attractive. After all, hearing aids are relatively expensive, take more than one visit to properly fit and work effectively only if the user has the physical and cognitive abilities to wear them consistently. When you factor all these dimensions into the equation, you quickly begin to understand why data, such as that in Figure 1, tells a compelling story about the shortcomings of our current service delivery system.

Figure 1. UsePrevalence and Number of Individuals (50 years or older with >25dB hearing loss)

Reference: Chien, W. & Lin, F. (2012). Prevalence of hearing aid use among older adults in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 172, 292-203.

On one end of the age continuum, adults under 70, hearing aids carry a strong stigma, and, given the probability of milder hearing loss in this cohort of patients, they are unlikely to be the most cost-effective solution. On the other end of the age range, a higher percentage of individuals have hearing aids, but the prevalence of hearing aid use is still under 25% for those over the age of 80. Further, when we consider the number of individuals over the age of 80 suffering from cognitive or physical decline that often prevents them from effectively using hearing aids; we need to find alternative remediation strategies.

Growing the demand for audiology services requires all of us to re-think how we can address the unmet needs of patients across the entire spectrum of ages. In this issue of Audiology Practices, Drs. Lori Zitelli and Catherine Palmer of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center discuss how their clinic intervenes in the care of trauma clinic patients through the provision of audiology services. Notice how their interventional audiology strategy has helped many patients, especially those over the age of 65 more actively participate in their healthcare. In addition to addressing the communication needs of a significant group of individuals who ordinarily would not see an audiologist, their program has dispensed an increasing numbers of amplifiers over the past four years. It’s a good example of how the patient receives better care, trauma physicians provide more effective services because their patients can hear better and audiologists grow their business.