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Mobile hearing clinics to bring hearing loss testing to the community

SINGAPORE – Residents in the western region of Singapore will get greater access to hearing health services, with the expansion of the National University Hospital’s (NUH) community audiology services.

A new satellite hearing clinic has been launched at the Jurong Medical Centre, while mobile audiology clinics have been introduced at three polyclinics – in Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang and Queenstown – under National University Polyclinics, between October 2022 and July 2023.

An initiative under the audiology team from NUH’s Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, the expansion of services will enable greater accessibility to hearing services for residents, especially seniors who require specialised care.

These include basic and comprehensive hearing assessments as well as hearing-aid evaluation, fitting and rehabilitation services.

Each new mobile audiology clinic, which is managed by three people, packs the necessary equipment, like an audiometer, hearing-aid analyser and a tympanometer, which measures eardrum movement, into a trolley.

These trolleys can then be easily moved from one location to another – for example, from one polyclinic to another, as well as to nearby community centres.

They leverage a system – developed by researchers from NUH, the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the Singapore General Hospital – which eliminates the need for specially sound-proofed rooms to test for hearing loss.

The new clinics come after the introduction of the NUH Mobile Hearing Clinic, which launched in 2015 and is housed in a 24-foot container truck with sound-treated audio rooms to conduct hearing tests and provide hearing aid services.

NUH senior principal audiologist Jenny Loo said the expansion aims to provide the services offered by the container truck mobile hearing clinic in a smaller setting, allowing the new mobile clinics to travel to more locations.

This is because the new clinics pack equipment similar to those contained in the container truck.

“This idea came about after Covid-19, because we realised that many places are not accessible,” she said.

NUH’s community audiology team typically sees about 4,000 patients annually. The expansion is expected to allow the team to see as many as 8,000 patients a year.

Project Silver Screen – Singapore’s nationwide health screening regime for the elderly – estimates that as many as 320,000 seniors experience significant hearing loss.

Dr Loo, who heads NUH’s audiology team, noted that an earlier study had found that 73 per cent of seniors here said they would not want to go to the hospital for a hearing test, with only about 5 per cent of those who would benefit from hearing aids actually getting them.

“With the expansion of our audiology services, we hope to benefit more patients through the convenience, and concurrently raise awareness on the importance of hearing care in the community,” she added.

The mobile audiology clinics could also potentially free up resources at the main clinic at NUH, allowing it to focus on those with more severe and complex hearing issues, she added.

A study by researchers here, published in peer-review medical journal JAMA Neurology in February, showed that devices such as hearing aids help decrease the risk of long-term cognitive decline and potentially improve cognitive abilities among people with hearing loss.

“Getting accurate hearing assessments, diagnosis and the right treatment minimises the risk of other developmental health issues, and early intervention can help to promote a healthier community for Singaporeans and the larger population,” said Associate Professor Loh Woei Shyang, head of NUH’s Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

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