VHA’s Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) is bringing better hearing options to Veterans virtually. The VA Audiology and Speech Pathology Program Office, led by Dr. Rachel McArdle, has worked with VHA IE to extend care beyond the walls of VA audiology clinics. Those options include remote hearing aid orientations and adjustment sessions using a variety of hearing aid tools.
ERTHI is Enterprise Remote Tuning of Hearing Instruments. The program uses a specialized applications that allows a Veteran to connect their hearing aids to their phone via Bluetooth. This enables virtual interaction with an audiologist to ensure the appropriate settings on their hearing aids. The audiologist can see how the hearing aid is functioning and help the Veteran adjust it despite not being there in person.
“The Veteran called the whole session magic,” Dr. Lori Howe, an audiologist at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC), said of an 84-year-old Veteran participant. This is just one of many testimonials about the new remote hearing care efforts underway at VA.
Common issue for Veterans
Hearing loss is a common issue for the Veteran community, with more than 1.2 million Veterans receiving hearing loss compensation. Loss of hearing can have major impacts on an individual’s emotional, cognitive, and even physical well-being. This also means that hearing aids need to be adjusted and corrected regularly.
Because of this need and recent events, VA has now pushed 10 years of research, studies, and work over the finish line, rapidly spreading ERTHI across the health care system in only five weeks.
Audiology teams at Cheyenne VA Medical Center (VAMC), Capt. James A. Lovell FHCC, Miami VA Healthcare System, VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, and Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital, under the guidance of Dr. Chad Gladden, began testing and implementing the use of remote audiology care apps that multiple hearing aid vendors created. These apps had to function within VA’s IT infrastructure, be secure to ensure Veterans’ health care privacy, and be easy to use so that any Veteran could engage with them.
After extensive testing, Veterans across the enterprise began use of mobile audiology care apps in May, receiving remote hearing aid orientation and adjustments.
“Being able to hear has an incredible impact on how individuals interact with the world around them,” said Dr. McArdle. “This program enables us to help our patients get the most of their hearing aids in the safety of their own home.”