UCLH clinicians and researchers have launched a new ‘tele-otology’ service – the first of its kind in the UK that allows ENT surgeons to assess patients’ hearing and ear problems remotely and shorten treatment pathways.
The service, which is currently running as a pilot, uses a new piece of technology produced by Tympahealth. The device, a hearing health assessment system, consists of a modified smartphone that is operated by UCLH audiologists off-site and allows high definition video recording of patients’ ear drums. This information is then sent remotely to the ENT team together with an audiogram and all information about a patient’s symptoms needed to make an investigation and treatment plan in Epic, UCLH’s electronic health record system.
Detailed diagnosis of ear abnormalities can be challenging without a full microscope and it can therefore be difficult for community referrers to know where best to send patients, whether it be ENT, Audiovestibular medicine or Audiology. By enabling detailed assessment prior to patient’s coming to hospital, there is now the potential to reduce footfall to the hospital, save on patient journeys, enable highly specialist management of more numbers of patients per day, and direct patients to the correct specialist sooner.
Discussions around the service started after the NHS Long Term plan was published in 2019 suggesting hospitals aim to reduce face-to-face appointments by 30% by employing virtual clinics and telemedicine. The pandemic abruptly reduced the capacity of the hospital building and accelerated implementation of the idea. The pilot launch was made possible by the donation of clinic rooms and audiology testing booths by Boots Hearing Care, whilst NHS capacity was restricted. Boots made facilities available in their Oxford Street store on a non-commercial basis as a gesture of goodwill towards the NHS.
Joseph Manjaly, UCLH ENT consultant who pioneered the service, said: “This project aligns with many of UCLH’s ongoing aims – to improve patient experience, utilise technology for efficiency and enable care in the community. The pilot has been a team effort involving different specialties and trust management. It will initially run for 4 weeks before evaluation. If deemed successful, we will aim to roll it out as a permanent service with our North London GP practices.”