US study calls on system leaders to improve access to hearing services and treat adult hearing loss as a major public health challenge
The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine’s report on improving access to, and the affordability of, hearing support for adults was published on 2 June. A panel of academic, clinical and public health experts reviewed evidence and compared local hearing support with other countries – including the UK – to evaluate how to improve services for US citizens with hearing loss.
Although developed in a completely different context, the publication contains some basic themes which will resonate on this side of the Atlantic. Just like the Action Plan on Hearing Loss in England, the report contains recommendations aimed at improving services for all people with hearing loss; including de-medicalising hearing loss, reducing the stigma associated with hearing technologies, improving awareness about assistive technologies and encouraging innovative new models of hearing care that are easier to access and that deliver person-centred and ongoing care.
Many of the recommendations in the report could help the USA achieve some of the benefits already delivered by the UK hearing service– for example direct access to audiologists without the need for a medical assessment. The proposals also aim to offer people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds – more equitable access to hearing care, something the NHS has done since 1948.
Whilst the report learns lessons from the better aspects of the UK system, it also shares other evidence on the needs of people with hearing loss that the UK can learn from.
NCHA Director of Policy Harjit Sandhu said: “This study is about challenges specific to the USA and improving equity in access which is a major problem there. Whilst it is difficult to generalise the regulatory and economic recommendations in the report, the study does offer useful pointers on how to improve uptake of hearing care – for example by offering more hearing care in local non-medical settings. It also makes clear that all levels of society need to now think about hearing loss as a major public health issue, something the NCHA has long supported.”
“The report proposes regulatory change in the USA with regards to medical device classification of hearing technologies. While this may help in the US context, some of the options suggested will still be more costly than what is already available in the UK. It is unlikely therefore, given the more cost-effective models of hearing care in the UK, that the economic policies will be transferable. However, there are still many useful lessons in the publication for us all. At the NCHA, we have already begun the process of ‘translating’ the findings into a UK context to ensure that the UK continues to lead on service innovation and better access to hearing care for all both nationally and globally”.