Bringing hearing health closer to the community
Published on 19 September 2023
Patients are now able to access NUH’s community audiology services in more locations with the opening of a new Satellite Hearing clinic and more Mobile Audiology clinics.
It was about 10 years ago when Mdm Wong Foon Khwai first noticed a gradual decline in her ability to hear and understand people when they spoke to her.
She thought little of it then, attributing the issue to the natural course of ageing. However, as the years passed, the deterioration in her hearing began to profoundly affect her daily life and overall well-being.
In particular, her hearing impairment posed a significant challenge in her interactions with both colleagues and family, leaving her increasingly exasperated.
“It was very frustrating to not be able to hear what people were saying,” the 76-year-old recounted. “It was troublesome not only for me, but also for my colleagues, friends, and family members, who often had to repeat themselves multiple times when speaking to me.”
But things took a turn for the better last year when Mdm Wong was introduced to the National University Hospital’s (NUH) Mobile Hearing Clinic (MHC) during a community health screening.
There, she was able to get her hearing tested, and was subsequently referred for a follow-up consultation at the Mobile Audiology Clinic (MAC) at Bukit Batok Polyclinic.
In just over a month, Mdm Wong received a hearing aid, and today, has regained her ability to hear better, along with the quality of life she had lost.
While Mdm Wong is one of nearly 30,000 patients who benefitted from the MHC – which launched in 2015 – she was among the first to utilise the services of the MAC, which was rolled out only in October last year.
The MAC has since been rolled out in two other polyclinics under National University Polyclinics (NUP), namely Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic and Queenstown Polyclinic.
Designed so that it can be managed by a team of three staff, the MAC consists of a self-sustained trolley equipped with an audiometer, hearing aid analyser, printer, and other audiology equipment.
Leveraging a portable hearing test system that eliminates the need for hearing test booths, the MAC can be deployed from one polyclinic to another, as well as to nearby community centres.
These new MACs, coupled with the establishment of a Satellite Hearing Clinic at Jurong Medical Centre, aim to improve accessibility for community residents, particularly older individuals in need of specialised audiology care.
“In a previous study with the NUH Mobile Hearing Clinics, 73% of seniors in Singapore said that they would not want to go to the hospital for a hearing test, and only about 5% of the people who would benefit from hearing aids actually ended up getting them,” said Dr Jenny Loo, Senior Principal Audiologist (Head), Department of otolaryngology – Head & Neck surgery at NUH.
“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.
“The clinics can also potentially help the main clinic in NUH to focus on patients with more severe and complex hearing issues, free up resources, and reduce waiting time for them.”
Dr Loo added that the NUH community audiology team currently sees around 4,000 patients annually. With this expansion, however, they expect to double their annual patient count.
More importantly, this will enable earlier assessment and treatment of patients' hearing issues.
“The waiting time for hospital audiology services can extend up to six months," Dr Loo explained. “Yet, through community audiology services, this wait is shortened to one or two months, enabling patients like Mdm Wong to receive their hearing aids sooner.”
Addressing hearing loss is especially crucial for the elderly, as it is associated with other issues such as dementia, depression, and diminished overall physical and mental well-being.
Recent studies have shown that hearing aids and other restorative devices can decrease the risk of long-term cognitive decline and potentially improve cognitive abilities in individuals with hearing loss.
A/Prof Loh Woei Shyang, Group Chief, Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, National University Health System (NUHS), emphasised, “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.”
In consultation with Dr Jenny Loo, Senior Principal Audiologist (Head), Department of otolaryngology – Head & Neck surgery, NUH, A/Prof Loh Woei Shyang, Group Chief, Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, NUHS