Understanding the Role Played by Audiologists. 2019-02-25
It’s barely a century since the evaluation of hearing loss first became the focus of dedicated healthcare professionals. Until that point, the diagnosis was undertaken by a GP or perhaps an ENT doctor, and the patient was left to acquire whatever assisted hearing device might have been available. Although instruments with which to measure deafness were around in the 1920s, in practice, it was service personnel returning from two successive world wars with the condition we now call noise-induced hearing loss that prompted greater interest and led, eventually, to the science known as audiology and the first professional audiologists.
Locally, the profession is governed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) with which both students and graduates must register and abide by its codes of practice. The minimum requirement for practitioners is an appropriate bachelor’s degree. Those currently offered in South Africa include the BA or BSc (Audiology), Bachelor of Communication Pathology, BA Speech and Hearing Therapy, and Bachelor in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. Regardless of which course they may choose, all students aiming to become audiologists are also required to complete 400 hours of clinical work covering diagnostic audiology and rehabilitation, as well as the management of vestibular disorders and tinnitus. For those seeking a higher qualification, PhD programmes and research-based master’s degrees are available at some SA universities.
In common with other healthcare professionals in South Africa, following their graduation, all audiologists are legally required to complete a year of paid community service, during which they are supervised by more senior colleagues before they will be eligible to apply for a position elsewhere.
Whether in a community clinic or a private practice, the job requires both sound technical and interpersonal skills. While the ability to conduct and interpret the results of diagnostic procedures such as the audiogram, and the Rinne and Weber tests, it is important to put patients at ease and ensure that they fully understand the possible outcomes, as well as the various management options that may be available to them.
Once the results of the tests are known and the hearing loss is confirmed, the next step is normally to recommend a suitable assisted hearing solution. In most cases, this will be a hearing aid, but severe or profound deafness may require a cochlear implant and a referral to an ENT surgeon. It is common practice for audiologists to stock a range of hearing aids for sale to patients.
Once a suitable unit has been selected, the healthcare professional must then fit it and adjust it to match the user’s hearing requirements, while offering advice on its operation and care.