AudiologyNOW! at a crossroads
- Published on 10 May 2017
The 2017 American Academy of Audiology (AAA) was held from 5th to 8th April in Indianapolis, Indiana. The host state’s official motto is the ‘Crossroads of America’; perhaps an apt location for a profession that is potentially at a crossroads, in more ways than one.
The program committee for the annual American Academy of Audiology’s congress encouraged delegates to ‘Connect, Reconnect and Innovate in INDY!’ as thousands of hearing care professionals convened at the Indiana Convention Centre in Indianapolis for the fourday jamboree in early April. To facilitate the AudiologyNOW! 2017 theme, a vast array of events were scheduled. Hundreds of hours of lectures, workshops, learning modules, learning labs, student workshops and exhibitor courses covering the complete spectrum of audiology subjects were packed into four days from Wednesday 5th through to Saturday 8th April.
The 2017 Academy Research Conference (ARC) kickstarted the learning with a full day focusing on paediatrics examining the advancements made over the last decade and the innovations to come. Under the chairmanship of Anne Marie Tharpe, PhD, experts and subject-leaders discussed how the ability to identify, diagnose and treat infants and children with hearing loss has improved significantly as a result of an enhanced understanding of developmental and biological mechanisms and technological advances.
Issues for audiology
The Annual General Assembly was moved to an earlier time on the Thursday; delegates had to be up bright and early to hear Dr Ian Windmill, President of The Academy officially open the conference. Talking about the issues facing the industry at the moment, he said, “The past 18 months have been nothing if not interesting for our profession. Certainly not in my professional career has the subject of hearing loss been so evident inside the beltway (1).” The audiology profession in the US is facing several issues from the PCAST report through to an impending FDA decision on over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.
The 2017 keynote address was given by Dr. Shelly Chadha from the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Chadha spoke about ‘Global action for hearing loss: making hearing care accessible to all’. Chadha focused on providing an understanding of the WHO programme and generating interest in the global movement for making hearing care accessible to all. Immediately following the General Assembly in the main auditorium, Dr. Curtis Alcock, a hearing care professional from the UK, provided food for thought during his lecture, ‘The science of being repulsive (and how to avoid it)’. Addressing the question of why most people avoid hearing care, Alcock uses research and experience from social sciences to look at how attitudes and behaviours are formed, and most importantly, the simple changes that can be made to make your hearing care practice or clinic less repulsive!
It’s not all work at the AudiologyNOW! Conference. The social aspects of AudiologyNOW! are important for making those connections with other audiologists. ‘Celebrate Audiology’ is the kick-off networking event on the Wednesday evening. These couple of hours are the first opportunity to look at the innovations in the exhibit hall from hundreds of companies; offering delegates and exhibitors a more relaxed way to mix and mingle amongst the exhibition booths. Food, drink and entertainment help the conversations flow and people to connect on the exhibit floor.
The other days at conference included baseball games, coffee meet-ups, picnics, banquets, international receptions and a 5k early morning run, providing a plethora of opportunities to network with 5,000 hearing care professionals from across the world. Unfortunately, for those wanting to do the sunrise yoga at 6am on the Friday, it was completely booked out long before conference began!
Over-the-counter hearing aids
In the corridors and hallways, exhibition booths and bars the key topics on people’s lips were OTC, telehealth and rechargeable hearing aids. Hearing aid provision in the USA is currently at a crossroads, a decisive moment, when legislators are deciding on a potential new supply route for product provision for mild to moderate hearing loss. Much of the discussions at The Academy conference centred on the potential supply of hearing instruments over-the-counter. The profession appears to be divided on whether this would be a positive move for patients and hearing care provision. “Allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter will help bring down costs and expand consumer choices so that millions more Americans can find affordable hearing aids,” Senator Warren has said in a press statement. The goal of the legislation is to make amplification devices more easily available to consumers, and thus increase competition and consumer choice, and lower costs. Several organisations and patient bodies have come out in support of the proposal, others are a little reticent. HIA, the trade organization for hearing device and equipment manufacturers, has emphasized the importance of FDA regulation to ensure hearing aid effectiveness and safety, and to avoid a marketing “race to the bottom” that would accompany deregulation of the hearing aid market. American hearing care professionals are also divided as to whether this will be good for patients and the profession.
Whilst telehealth in audiology is not a new topic, technological innovations from manufacturers are bringing it to the forefront once again. Telehealth (i.e. teleaudiology) can be used to reach out to patients, providing access in remote or rural areas, improve user satisfaction and accessibility to specialists and save patients from having to travel to receive care. Hearing aid manufacturers are currently in the process of testing distant fitting solutions with Veterans Affairs in America (see box). Telehealth innovations were launched at AudiologyNOW! by several hearing instrument manufacturers. The world’s first transatlantic remote fine tuning of a hearing aid was successfully completed in front of a live audience during GN Hearing’s investor/analyst meeting. Anders Hedegaard, CEO of GN Hearing, said during the meeting, “Telehealth is there to be further developed. As Dave [Fabry] expressed during his presentation there has been wishes and attempts to implement it for many, many years, but technology has not allowed it. This is exactly what we do now. We bring technology to the table to be used by those that want to use it.”
TELEHEALTH FOR THE VA
Veterans Affairs Telehealth Services uses health informatics, disease management and telehealth technologies to target care and case management to improve access to care, improving the health of veterans in America. In audiology they have started a project and have approached all manufacturers to be involved in the process. Several manufacturers confirmed their involvement. Soren Nielsen from William Demant said, “We are trying a telehealth solution with the VA.They basically called in for manufacturers to be part of a pilot project where we have to, within their system, make sure that a very significant portion of their aftercare service can be handled in people’s homes rather than having to come back into hospital. We have spent quite a lot of resources on that and that will be our starting point for a telehealth journey.”
Martin Grieder, Vice President at Sonova confirmed, “We are in the process of testing a distant fitting solution with the VA and that is progressing very well. Here I would say, stay tuned as that is also a focus area of ours.”
Another trend gaining traction is rechargeable, with solutions available from all manufacturers on the exhibition floor. New releases from Oticon, Unitron and Starkey add to the products from Phonak, Sivantos and Hansaton. Many of the products use the ZPower silver-zinc rechargeable batteries that provide all day power from a single charge but also offer the flexibility to use disposable batteries if desired.
These are just a few of the technologies on show on the exhibition floor. In the city that is best known for hosting the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500, audiologists and students raced around the 65,000 square feet of exhibition space, weaving in and out of 160 exhibitor booths, stopping along the way to discover the latest technological innovations, new products, services and people that will be helping their businesses to grow and clinics to flourish.
Attendee numbers decrease
Delegate numbers continue to decrease at the American Academy of Audiology annual event. This year 4,849 people attended the conference and 1,548 (32%) of these were exhibitors. Whilst 40 countries were represented at the conference, numbers of delegates travelling from abroad have also dropped. International attendance is now 9% of total attendees with many of these being from European manufacturers.
An Audiology Worldnews special print edition was available at AudiologyNOW!. This can also be viewed online (free access) here .
1. The Beltway refers to Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, a circumferential highway (beltway) that has encircled Washington, D.C. since 1964. "Inside the Beltway" is an American idiom used to characterize matters that are, or seem to be, important primarily to officials of the U.S. federal government, to its contractors and lobbyists, and to the corporate media who cover them.