The recently passed over-the-counter hearing aid legislation is considered by many hearing healthcare providers to be a shot across the proverbial bow. The pending re-regulation, which is expected to involve the creation of a product category, sold directly to consumers, could result in more providers offering unbundled services.
As the profession looks for new ways of providing services to adults with hearing loss, a few forward-thinking entrepreneurs have brought new approaches to some timeworn concepts.
One such example is clEAR, a customizable, computer-based auditory training program. The brainchild of Nancy Tye-Murray and her colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, clEAR (customized learning: Exercises for Aural Rehabilitation), is available to patients only through a licensed professional. The customizable program is subscription-based, thus clinicians can bundle it with the purchase of hearing aids, or offer it as a stand-alone fee-for-service.
Because clEAR is obtained from a licensed professional and not sold directly to consumers, clinicians can tailor the auditory training directly to the needs of the individual. Each clEAR auditory training exercise lasts about 20 minutes and patients are expected to complete two to three exercises per week over a 12 week period. Also, clEAR allows provides instantaneous feedback to the clinician and patient so that progress can be easily tracked.
Online Auditory Training Programs
Although computer-based auditory training exercises have been available for more than a decade (perhaps the most well-known examples are the Read My Quips and LACE programs), clEAR offers some unique enhancements over earlier types of computer-based programs. For example, the clEAR program includes a recording and automated editing system that enables patients use the speech of a specific frequent communication partner. In addition, clEAR, which works with either a tablet and laptop computer, employs a game-like format, designed to make the training more fun and engaging.
Since clEAR was launched earlier this year, more than 320 hearing healthcare providers in four English-speaking countries have subscribed to the program. Given the initial interest, it seems that clEAR might be gaining traction as an unbundled service option in clinics that offer group aural rehabilitation or have dabbled with other types of computerized auditory training.
Julia Tanner, a private practice owner in California, is an early adopter of clEAR. Dr. Tanner has been offering clEAR for a few months and is thrilled with the results, as she is able to customize lesson plans, follow progress and use instant messaging to stay in close contact with patients without requiring burdensome extra office visits.
“The feedback has been very positive for the motivated patient. I feel that they really enjoy the community aspect of the program and they are very motivated to continue to play the games and increase their scores. Most (patients) comment that they are feeling more focused and confident in conversations. I have found the program to be so well organized and easy to use that it is very easy to implement. The program has been a great asset to my practice.” –Dr. Julia Tanner
Even though computerized, game-like auditory training programs are not new, the changing landscape of hearing healthcare, fomented by the rise of OTC products and the growing demand to unbundle services, might be the impetus for more professionals offering programs like clEAR.