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COVID-19 outbreak opens up new telemedicine opportunities for hearing impaired

COVID-19 outbreak opens up new telemedicine opportunities for hearing impaired
Posted at 11:23 AM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 12:23:34-04

As a high school choral instructor, Jane Money relies on her hearing to make a living. When she started to lose her ability to hear more than 20 years ago, she was terrified.

“You have to be quite brave to say, ‘I’m not hearing well,’ because this is what you depend on for your livelihood,” the 65-year-old explained during a recent visit to her doctor.

Money is among the more than 48 million Americans who are suffering from some form of hearing loss. It’s a staggering number of people that doctors worry may be avoiding treatment because of the COVID-19 outbreak and fear of catching the virus.

“We used to be a very high-touch type of healthcare,” explained Dr. Brian Fligor, whose practice in Boston.

But with the help of technology, Dr. Fligor has managed to reduce the number of trips patients now need to take to his office. Last year, Dr. Fligor started using a 3D ear scanner made by Lantos. The devices uses what looks like a small water balloon to scan the inside of a patient’s ear, and then, it creates a digital file that can be sent to hearing aid manufacturers.

In the past, it was just a convenient way to help patients get a perfectly-fitted hearing aid, but now, Dr. Fligor has realized it’s become a critical piece in newly created his telehealth endeavor.

“If patients have an issue with their ear or hearing device, instead of having them come back in, this scanning system allows me to fix it remotely,” he said.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many patients are trying to practice social distancing, Dr. Fligor says many people have realized they suddenly need their hearing devices to work perfectly for Zoom or FaceTime calls. And instead of coming into his office, he can now help them remotely if their ear has been scanned digitally.

“We’re able to meet their urgent need, urgently,” he said.

Patients are also able to access their digital ear file remotely, which means people with hearing loss can order custom-fitted earbuds or earplugs, without having to leave home.