Veterans now can get their hearing aids checked by an audiologist without ever leaving home.
By downloading an app that connects their hearing device to a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or similar device via Bluetooth, VA beneficiaries can remotely check hearing aid orientations and adjustment sessions. An audiologist virtually joins the app through a secure connection to video chat with the veteran and check the hearing device’s operation.
Since its systemwide launch in May, about 250 veterans a week have performed the remote check, according to the VA. Hearing loss is a common issue among veterans, with more than 1.2 million veterans receiving hearing loss compensation, according to the VA.
“Having hearing loss is huge,” said Chad Gladden, audiology telehealth coordinator for the VA. “It limits interaction and potentially puts a burden on the veteran and family members. Being able to have something to dispense and ensure better follow-up, and that their needs are getting met in the most convenient and accessible way possible, is the core mission of audiologists.”
The veteran must download the app that corresponds with the manufacturer of their hearing device through Google Play or Apple’s App Store. A link is sent to the veteran that allows the audiologist to virtually meet on the app and authenticate the visit; beneficiaries can contact their VA care provider with questions about the process.
The technology started out as a program on home computers in 2010, Gladden said. As technology evolved into mobile devices and apps, researchers focused on ways to obtain a secure connection to bring the program from a desktop computer to a veteran’s fingertips on a smart device.
In 2017, test groups were established at VA centers in Wyoming, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri to give researchers a sample of how veterans in different territories were able to access and connect to their device manufacturer's app. Over the next three years, modifications were made to refine the program, noting WiFi connectivity is the most common issue veterans have, Gladden said.
The technology was developed in a partnership by the Veterans Health Administration’s Innovation Ecosystem and the VA Audiology and Speech Pathology Program. Each of the manufacturer apps functions within the VA’s Information Technology infrastructure and has a secure connection to ensure health care privacy.