Hearing call for telehealth, audiologist steps up
Private audiology practice in Central Va. offers curbside assistance and telehealth services during pandemic.
Virginia Business virtually sat down with audiologist Dr. Kristin Koch at Evolution Hearing, a private audiology practice that has Charlottesville and Richmond locations. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with Virginians about how their work lives and businesses have changed during the pandemic.
Virginia Business: How has Evolution Hearing adapted during the crisis?
Koch: Most of the people we see at our office are older with hearing loss issues. So we actually closed the office, started rescheduling and canceling appointments the week of [March] 16th. We knew it was going to get bad. Once we heard what the risk was and it was so much higher with older adults, we felt like it was the right thing to do. People are pretty desperate when they can’t hear and they’re trying to watch the news or they’re kind of stuck inside with their spouse. Not being able to hear is a huge issue. So we’ve been telling people that if they have an emergency — like their hearing aid isn’t working or they really need help — that they can drive to our office.
We’ve told them to stay in the car and that will go out and — using a disinfecting wipe — take their hearing aid from them, take it into the office, clean it, check it, see if we can get a working, and then sanitize it again and bring it out to them. That reduces their chances of picking up something in the office. And even though we’ve been cleaning and sanitizing our office and things like that, it just helps to reduce the chances of them picking up some germs or bugs.
VB: How does the business typically operate?
Koch: Usually it’s anywhere from eight to 15 people on the schedule in a given day. Our office does walk-in hours every day from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. But that hour has gone away. Basically people are on their own to troubleshoot at home and that’s where the curbside service or even the telehealth phone calls or Zoom calls can be helpful.
VB: What changes or additions to telehealth have you made?
Koch: Newer hearing aids actually have telehealth built in. Through a cell phone app, I can remotely connect to their hearing aid to change the way they sound. Some people were already set up for that. But honestly, for most people, it wasn’t important. They thought, “Oh, that’s a nice feature. Maybe I’ll use it someday.” But now, that someday is the reality.
I think people weren’t necessarily comfortable with [telehealth], especially our patients who are older. But now people now know the company Zoom or know how to do FaceTime, and things like that. So I think all of those may make older people more comfortable with using technology for health care.
VB: How can doctors not treating COVID-19 help their patients?
Koch: The routine appointments are going to have to be placed on hold at least for the time being. You’re looking in someone’s ear, you know — heaven forbid — someone coughs, either me or them. That’s a recipe for disaster. That’s why dentists and physical therapists and audiologists like me have all decided to close our offices, just because it’s too risky. But when it comes to the emergencies, I think through different ways we can still take care of our patients. It could be as easy as a phone call, but if we need or want to do telehealth, or if someone doesn’t feel comfortable and wants to drive to the office, I’m willing to do whatever I can to help take care of somebody.