January 30, 2015
Professor Answers Call to Help Audiologist Treat Patients Remotely
Thanks to Dr. Jackie Clark, Teleaudiology Is Helping to Make a Difference for Audiologist in Zambia
Aug. 11, 2014
Dr. Jackie Clark
Helping those with hearing problems in Zambia, a developing country larger than Texas with more than 14 million people, requires organization and technical prowess.
UT Dallas’ Dr. Jackie Clark heard the call.
Clark, a clinical associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, has helped Dr. Alfred Mwamba establish a teleaudiology practice over the past year in the landlocked, south-central African country.
Clark’s interest in helping Mwamba began about five years ago when they first met in South Africa at a conference for humanitarian audiologists. Over time, she learned of his challenges to provide audiological services for the hard-to-reach rural population in Zambia.
She has since repeatedly taken students from UT Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders there to gain experience while helping train local clinicians to perform basic audiological services.
To Clark, the need for greater help was evident.
“It is estimated that 5.4 percent of the world’s population have hearing loss,” Clark said. “With only one audiologist, that would mean Alfred would have to serve 700,000 Zambians with hearing loss.”
While telemedicine in the U.S. has been in practice for 40 years, Clark said that teleaudiology has only become a serious clinical option within the past several years. The requirements for telemedicine are fairly simple: a centrally located doctor, a clinical assistant at the remote location with the patient, a reliable Internet connection and two computers with video cameras. The addition of computer-linkable audiology equipment has recently increased the success of teleaudiology.
Dr. Alfred Mwamba and Dr. Jackie Clark demonstrate the teleaudiology link that allows audiologists to work with patients and clinical officers remotely.
It takes the better part of a day to drive 200 miles on rough roads from Zambia’s capital of Lusaka to the nation’s second-largest city, Ndola. Using the new teleaudiology equipment provided by Sound Seekers, a group dedicated to improving hearing health in impoverished communities, that distance can now be covered nearly instantaneously.
Since the program officially launched last October, about 30 Zambian patients have been seen via the Internet.
With the help of a trained clinical officer at the remote site, audiologists can examine the inside of patients’ ears using a video otoscope, program hearing aids, test the functionality of the eardrum, and conduct auditory brainstem analysis to check the viability of the auditory nerve, all while miles away. Clinical officers go to school for less time than audiologists and aren’t as specialized, but after training they know how to operate the equipment and deal with basic audiological problems.
As technology and telemedicine continue to expand the reach of doctors, a low-cost and clinically trained local staff to act as the physicians’ hands becomes increasingly important. Clark, UT Dallas and international partners are developing and implementing the essential tools to meet that need.
To prepare clinical officers to better help Mwamba and other audiologists in developing countries, Clark helped create the International Hearing Care Technician course set.
The purpose of the 20-hour online certificate program is to train individuals at a low cost to perform audiological services under the supervision of an audiologist or otolaryngologist. Developed with the American Institute of Continuing Medical Education, the University of New England and Education Without Borders, the program is aimed at increasing the number of local medical workers in developing countries.
Clark, who is also a co-chair and one of the founders of the Coalition for Global Hearing Health, said her efforts are driven by a desire to offer ethical humanitarian aid. She describes ethical aid as providing the same level of care for anyone, regardless of status, gender or religion, etc.
“Of the 360 million people worldwide who must live with disabling hearing loss, most will never receive help due to low or no resources available,” Clark said. “Reducing disability through remediating the problem has been one proven form of breaking the cycle of poverty and positively impacting a community.”