Inside audiology at OutsideClinic

OT  speaks to OutsideClinic’s Lynda Oliver and Ian McKendrick about its audiology division, the service it provides and its future ambitions

audiology service
Domiciliary eye care provider, OutsideClinic, extended its portfolio to offer at home hearing and audiology services nearly 10 years ago.

Having been founded in 1987 to provide domiciliary eye care, the business opted to enter audiology for two reasons, its head of HR, marketing and media, Lynda Oliver, explained to OT.

“We were seeing a patient group that were often asking us about how they could get their hearing tested and, while we have worked with providers such as Boots previously to try and support our patients, we decided that we had the infrastructure, access to professional support as well as plenty of excellent bespoke systems in place to be able to provide the service ourselves.”

OutsideClinic launched the audiology arm of its business from scratch. “What we had was plenty of patients, but at that time no audiologists and no relationships with the hearing aid manufacturers,” Ms Oliver shared.

As a result, the company began to develop its offering by talking to patients and learning what this demographic wanted and needed from a hearing care provider. It then sought to frame the business to match its patients’ needs.

Today, OutsideClinic has almost 40 audiologists as well as 30 ancillary staff in head office who support its hearing and audiology division.

We are approaching 10 years being a hearing and optical business, whereas before then we were an optical business with some hearing provision. Being a dual sensory provider for our patients is very important to us

Lynda Oliver, head of HR, marketing and media for The Outside Clinic

Audiology offering

As a domiciliary provider, OutsideClinic focuses its offering on adult rehabilitation audiology.

Explaining the service, audiology clinical lead for OutsideClinic, Ian McKendrick, told OT: “We offer our patients a full hearing test, while also taking a full medical history in order to allow us to get an overall picture of the difficulties and challenges that the patient may be having. After the test, our audiologists will have a conversation with the patient regarding the different hearing aids that are available and make a recommendation based on the best outcome for the patient.”

While the length of a hearing care assessment and test depends on the patient, Mr McKendrick highlights that the average age of an OutsideClinic hearing patient is 85 years old and therefore the actual test would take around 20–25 minutes, which is longer than the standard 10–15 minutes that younger patients may receive. This is followed by the discussion and recommendation for the appropriate hearing solution, meaning the audiologist can be with a patient for up to an hour and a half.

“We can in some instances fit the hearing aid and assess the fitting post-test at an initial visit, and of course provide lifelong aftercare,” Mr McKendrick emphasised.

Speaking about the benefits and drawbacks of providing audiology in a home setting, Mr McKendrick highlights that all the equipment that OutsideClinic audiologists use is the same as that found in a normal audiology environment. “We have the same equipment, it’s just slightly modified to be smaller to make it easier to be portable as we are a domiciliary provider,” he said. “Being able to carry out a hearing test in the home environment means that we can give a bespoke recommendation on a hearing solution to suit the patient’s lifestyle. We can even pair their hearing aids to their television or phone, which is a huge advantage,” he added.

“The only challenge we may have is background noise, which needs to be kept to a certain level, so all of our audiologists have sound level meters to ensure we maintain the correct sound level, to ensure correct test results,” Mr McKendrick shared.

audiologist and patient

Education excellence

OutsideClinic is very proud to be the only dedicated domiciliary adult hearing provider in the country to receive quality assurance accreditation from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

The Improving Quality in Physiological Services (IQIPS) recognition is a “badge of quality that allows the public to know that we have attained important accreditation for providing a high-quality service, and that everything we do has been scrutinised,” Mr McKendrick said.

Holding the UKAS IQIPS accreditation means that the business must undergo a surveillance period each year, during which UKAS assessors observe its audiologists with patients to ensure that a high level of care is being provided, along with a two day head office visit to access, test and check systems, policies and protocols.

Speaking about the achievement, Ms Oliver highlighted: “It’s been nearly one thousand hours of work to date, a massive undertaking for the organisation, however, we continue to reap the benefits for our pursuit of a quality and excellence agenda.”

Technology is already out there with hearing aids that can connect to Google Maps and can give directions through your phone when you are walking around town…For our patients who are unable to get out without help or assistance, I can really see developments in the future that will assist in their day to day living, giving them more independence

Ian McKendrick, audiology clinical lead for The Outside Clinic

Future goals

In addition to ensuring that, as a company, it is providing a high-quality service, OutsideClinic is keen to invest in the hearing care profession and has been excited to get involved with the trail blazer group for a new apprenticeship scheme for hearing aid dispensers. This is now a standard under the apprenticeship levy and is currently in the process of being taken up by universities.

“The scheme will give the opportunity for more people to enter the audiology profession as it offers an alternative route to qualification that doesn’t involve being full-time at university,” Mr McKendrick shared.

“It is an open door to a professional healthcare qualification that combines business and academic training; not everyone can afford or wants to go to university,” Ms Oliver added, confirming that once the course is officially ratified the business is keen to take on two to three apprentices a year.

Looking to the future, Mr McKendrick points out that people in their 50s and 60s are now particularly tech-savvy and predicts that just as wearables have reached the market, hearables will do so too in the near future.

“We already have hearing aids that we can issue which connect to Google Maps and can give you directions through your phone when you are walking around town, as well as those that do translation services. There is a whole change within the market that I can see really developing in the future,” he shared.

Ms Oliver is proud that OutsideClinic has developed from being an eye care provider to a joint eye care and hearing provider. “We are now a dual sensory healthcare business, which is very important to us,” she said.