Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of hearing services delivered via telehealth increased rapidly. However, it is unclear whether these services lead to clinical outcomes similar to those provided by traditional clinical services.
This study aimed to assess and understand, using a retrospective mixed-methods design: (1) whether clients receiving hearing services delivered remotely obtained similar or different clinical outcomes to clients receiving hearing services delivered in-person, and (2) the experiences that clients had of remotely delivered services and their decision to access or refuse those services.
One hundred and two clients seen for hearing aid fitting and follow-up were recruited and their clinical outcomes were collected via telephone interview. Of these, 45 were seen entirely in-person, 48 received a remote follow-up appointment by telephone or video call, and 9 had other fitting experiences and were excluded from analysis. Clinical Outcomes collected were the Glasgow Hearing Aid Benefit Profile, the Social Isolation Measure, the Effect on Other People and Change in Enjoyment of Life questions of the IOI-HA, and self-report hours of use in each ear. Participants were also asked about their preference for in-person and remote services. A subset was contacted for a qualitative interview.
There were no differences between the two groups on any of the clinical measures. Both groups preferred in-person services over remote services, although this preference was stronger among those seen entirely in-person. During the interview, participants identified the increased difficulty of communication using telecommunication services and the impact that this could have on the therapeutic relationship as barriers to accessing remote services.
Delivering follow-up appointments via telehealth does not seem to reduce the effectiveness of these services. However, the increased difficulty in of verbal communication between client and clinician may be a significant barrier to their use in practice.