June 16, 2021

Up Close & Personal

At Hearing Healthcare Practice, the relationships we build with clients and patients are fundamental to who we are, driving us to transcend the ordinary and to achieve the extraordinary.

We have always put human contact and empathy at the centre of everything we do. In this we are, sadly, atypical, although the huge distances clients travel to consult us and the recognition we regularly achieve in national and international awards lays testament to the success of our approach.

But recent events have shaken our world as we have all had to adapt and meet the challenges of reduced face-to-face contact. 

During lockdown, there’s been a great deal written about the value of virtual interaction using video Apps like Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and Skype. Although there is no doubt this technology has kept many families talking and businesses operating over the last year, we’ve also seen a dramatic move towards virtual consultations by physicians, therapists, and audiologists.   Although being able to interact, albeit virtually, with a patient or client is far preferable from not being able to see them at all, we are now deeply worried at the unabated rise of impersonal virtual technology in the healthcare professions.

At Hearing Healthcare Practice, we’re ideally placed to gauge sentiments at the frontline and we’re starting to hear from patients who are deeply worried as they struggle to arrange in person appointments with other healthcare workers. One client told us recently about the anxiety she suffered when the receptionist at her GP practice would only arrange a telephone consultation, despite having informed her that she was unable to communicate over the phone. She left in tears and was forced to suffer in silence. And this is just the tip of the iceberg – sadly these comments are now commonplace.

How did we get here? 

This new ‘virtual first’ appointment regime is the start of a revolution in healthcare, underpinned by the NHS Long Term Plan which contains a commitment that by 2023/24 every patient in England will be able to access a ‘digital first’ primary care offer. Access to primary care services via online consultations will be a key part of achieving this commitment.  

The official description of the service is as follows: Digital first is an approach to providing for the needs of a local population, enabling the redesign of care pathways with the use of digital tools. The aim is to ensure people can access appropriate health and care services consistently as and when they need to in a way that meets their needs. This will be driven by process change and adopted through digital platforms and products commissioned locally. This will help to create a consistent, holistic, and integrated end to end digital journey for patients. Email and stand-alone messaging do not meet the requirements to provide a suitable online consultation offer to patients and are unlikely to support practices in leveraging the benefits of online consultations.’

What this means of course is that virtual appointment are here to stay, like it or not. Face-to-face appointments will still be available… but we wonder how hard it will be to arrange them? As a result, we are deeply concerned that in the wider healthcare professions – in audiology and in general practice – that lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic are leading to the depersonalisation by stealth of all clinical visits. 

Change can be good ofcourse. It is the only constant in life, but as clinicians dealing with communication disabilities on a daily basis, we can see more people falling through the gaps in a system which caters for the masses but where individuals can get left behind.

At Hearing Healthcare Practice, we are passionate about the service we provide and will never compromise on offering the best we can for our patients. For that reason, we will always regard being with people and interacting with them as a fundamental part of the service we offer. Hearing issues are multi-faceted, highly complex and treating them is very rarely simply a question of plug in and play and everything working out fine. 

Of course, in certain circumstances, seeing a doctor or health professional on a Zoom link or Teams call is fine – a simple conversation or exchanging information can be very efficient, avoid travel and alleviate stress. However, and of fundamental importance in our experience, virtual consultations can never fully replace the all-important human contact required between health professional and patient. 

Clearly in dealing with audiological issues there will always be some physical interaction required in the fitting of hearing devices and hearing testing – although, with certain new technologies, there’s a trend towards there being no actual contact between audiologist and patient at all. 

Our promise to you

This forced ‘progress’ and our world’s seeming obsession with tech, ignores the fact that there’s so much more to the diagnosis and successful treatment of hearing problems than tests, graphs and ear scans (although those are clearly vital). Personal contact, understanding and counselling are fundamental, and at the beating heart of our work. At Hearing Healthcare Practice, we take time to really get to know our patients, talking to them, being with them, sharing our successes and empathising over life’s struggles, laughing, and crying, seeing how people react, sometimes in the most subtle and delicate ways. This is vital to our work and achieving successful and delighted outcomes. As yet there is no way that through a screen, over the phone or email, that we can be as good as we are face-to-face. 

Of course, a balance between personal contact and all the advantages offered by virtual technology provides an excellent solution, but to attempt to fully replace human contact with screens, devices and pure technology would degrade our professional service and it’s why people approach us in the first place. We never compromise on our approach, we never give up and say, ‘that’ll do’. It just isn’t in our practice DNA.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be laying out our vision for the future of hearing wellness and audiological healthcare, balancing the best of technology but with the best of human interaction and professional service. 

If you’d like to know more about the Hearing Healthcare Practice and what makes us tick, please get in touch.