A ‘new normal' for hearing healthcare

Reading Time: 5 minutes
by Constanze Schmuck
Published 03/03/2021

How a pandemic can remind us how important good hygiene and disinfection is within a healthcare environment.

What surfaced in a small Chinese food market in 2019 has spread to nearly every country around the world, disrupting daily lives and derailing global economies. The health care and occupational health communities have all felt the impact and practicing good hygiene is now more fundamental than ever.

Proficient health care services and over the counter medicines have up to this point made it possible to navigate in a world that is loaded with microorganisms relatively care-free, but the pandemic has brought into sharp focus how susceptible we all are to infection and how much bacteria surrounds us every day. To reinforce this statement: 

A teaspoon of soil contains as many microorganisms as humans currently living in Africa and gram of dental plaque contains approximately 1x1011 bacteria, which is roughly the number of humans who ever lived.1

Before the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, healthcare professionals always practiced good hygiene by disinfecting work surfaces, wiping down medical equipment and washing hands as a standard work practice. Fast forward and these actions have now become vital to everyone and should be the first consideration to protecting patients, our colleagues and our own families. 

In today’s climate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, audiological services now pose a medium to high-risk infection rate for Coronavirus because of the proximity to patients, test set-up and length of appointments2. Despite the development of several vaccines the healthcare sector will likely continue to face some level of strain due to the ease of virus transmission and will need to function with the strictest hygiene and sanitation programs for the foreseeable future. 

A ‘high-touch’ service

Traditionally, audiological care has been very much a ‘high-touch’ service where equipment is frequently handled and whereby several face-to-face screening assessments, hearing-aid fittings and follow-up appointments are conducted, all within confined spaces. With most people who require audiology services also being over 70 years of age3, this demographic is also at one of the highest risks from Coronavirus. 

The potential for future physical distancing restrictions, increased sanitation, ventilation and abrupt lockdowns also creates challenging circumstances in which to provide a high-quality hearing health service. With this in mind, do hearing healthcare services need to adapt to additional hygiene practices and how do we approach this?

Adapting to a ‘new normal’

Occupational health professionals, audiologists and clinicians may have to reconcile themselves with the fact that social distancing restrictions of some degree and increased use of PPE is now a ‘new normal’ and must adapt accordingly with patient safety in mind. As stated by the American academy of audiology:

“In the delivery of any health-related service, it is the health professional's responsibility to ensure the safety of all patients served. Toward this end, it is imperative that audiologists provide patients with diagnostic and treatment environments that are designed to minimize or eliminate the potential transmission of disease.”4

Unfortunately, with an occupational hazard such as Coronavirus, elimination is impossible. A ‘digital first approach’ should therefore be favoured, conducted via phone, video, email, or any other form of digital communication as appropriate.

Where face-to-face appointments are required, these should only be made when it is known that the clinic setting and operational criteria can meet the standards needed using professional judgement on necessity and in line with local policy. 

Before conducting any clinics, practitioners should also ensure they are fully competent with basic sterilisation techniques and hygiene principles. Hand and respiratory hygiene, as well as allotting time for deep cleaning in areas that provide the space to social distance should also be in place.

There may also need to be a consideration of the air supply to the facility. Most types of air conditioning systems can be used as normal, but if a centralised ventilation system is used which removes and circulates air to different rooms, it is recommended to turn off recirculation and use a fresh air supply. 

Furthermore, if using a fluid resistant surgical mask (FRSM type IIR) for a continued period (more than one patient visit) it cannot be removed or touched until the usage period is concluded. Masks should therefore be replaced as soon as damaged, cause skin irritation or become difficult to breathe through.

Business support

Overall, healthcare and medical product development has been aware of the risk of contamination and cross-infection, which is why the hygiene rules within the medical sphere have always been very strict. 

However, Coronavirus or any another viral respiratory disease is likely to continue as a pervasive global influence. While it poses tremendous challenges to traditional audiological services, it also creates the incentive to rapidly adapt to a changing landscape. 

Together with clinicians, occupational health professionals, employers and employees; at Amplivox we strive to provide the best hygiene and disinfectant solutions possible, in order to promote good hygiene amongst the audiology community. 

We now offer the following audiometry and spirometry hygiene consumable solutions: Type IIr3ply surgical face masks, Ear Cushion Covers, Bacterial Viral Filter for spirometers, Clinell Universal Wipes and Promed nitrile gloves.

For more information on any of our hygiene consumables please visit our hygiene consumables page, contact our customer support team on +44 (0)1865 880 846 or email us at solutions@amplivox.com.


References

1Microbiology by numbers. Nat Rev Microbiol 9, 628 (2011). 
https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro2644

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Work Restrictions for Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure to COVID-19 (2020). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-risk-assesment-hcp.html

3Healthy Hearing. Hearing loss statistics at a glance (2019). https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52814-Hearing-loss-statistics-at-a-glance

4 American academy of audiology. Infection Control in Audiological Practice. https://www.audiology.org/publications/guidelines-and-standards/infection-control-audiological-practice 

Additional resources

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Coronavirus (COVID-19): working safely. Health and Safety Executive (HSE). https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/index.htm