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Published on January 19, 2018
Hearing loss is one of the most common congenital conditions in the United States. That’s why the state of Minnesota requires all newborns to undergo a hearing screening before they leave the hospital. But in rural areas, parents face a challenge if a diagnostic evaluation is required with an audiologist. Essentia Health is tackling that challenge by offering tele-audiology services to families.
“Diagnostic sites available to families are limited in Northern Minnesota. Families need to travel to Duluth, Fargo, St Cloud or the Twin Cities for the testing,” says Essentia Audiologist Dr. Betsy Schutte. Travel can be challenging for families as it sometimes can take up most of the day, it’s a long drive, and there are costs such as gas, food, and time off from work.
“In addition, testing is most successful when the infant is sleeping which often doesn’t happen when the infant has slept during a 2 or 3-hour drive to Duluth,” adds Dr. Schutte. Now, patients can travel to Essentia Health-Virginia for a tele-audiology visit.
“Once the infant is ready to be tested, I connect from Duluth via a secure video system so the family, nurse at the site and myself can all see each other and communicate,” Dr. Schutte says. “We use earphones in the ears and play tones which we then monitor using electrodes and cables that are placed on the infant’s forehead and behind the ears.” Dr. Schutte is able to watch the sound as it moves from the ear to the brainstem, as well as movement of the eardrum and the health of the inner ear.
The new service is a hit with families who would otherwise need to make a long, inconvenient trip. “The families who have participated in testing through tele-audiology have appreciated having the testing completed closer to home. They are particularly happy not to have to worry about driving all the way to Duluth with our sometimes-unpredictable winter weather,” adds Dr. Schutte.
Scheduling for tele-audiology occurs with a physician referral to the Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic Audiology Department. Tele-audiology is also offered at Essentia Health-Deer River.