WASHINGTON, DC—The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a national tele-audiology pilot program that it hopes will lay the groundwork for a permanent program to improve veterans’ access to audiologic care.
In the pilot program, a computer network is used to transmit and regulate sound waves from an audiologist in one location to an office in a remote location. A technician at the remote site, typically a local clinic, equips the patient so that the audiologist can administer tests from a VA center that may be hundreds of miles away.
This eliminates the need for either the patient or the audiologist to spend the time and money required to get to the same place at the same time.
In theory, at least, the delivery of services to patients from a distance has a number of potential benefits. By making it more convenient for patients who live far from a VA medical center to get care for their hearing problems, tele-audiology may lead to more eligible veterans enrolling in VA audiology programs, while encouraging currently enrolled vets to take fuller advantage of VA services.
In addition, if VA audiologists are able to provide care to veterans over a much larger territory than is possible now, individual audiologists will be able to handle a larger caseload.
TEN CENTERS PARTICIPATING
Ten VA medical centers were selected to take part in the pilot program. They are in Denver, CO; Durham, NC; Hines, IL; Iowa City, IA; Madison, WI; Mountain Home, TN; San Juan, PR; Augusta, ME; and Washington, DC.
An example of how the tele-audiology program works can be seen at the Durham VA Medical Center. There, audiologists are connected with patients who go to a community-based VA outpatient clinic in Greenville, NC, which is a two-hour drive away from Durham
Patients can receive a battery of tests, including hearing screening, pure-tone evaluation, hearing aid counseling, video-otoscopy, hearing aid assessment, a limited hearing assessment, distortion-product otoacoustic evaluation (DPOAE), and auditory brainstem response (ABR).
The tele-audiology pilot program fits in with an initiative established by Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, to accelerate tele-health and home care initiatives, especially for older, chronically ill veterans.