Review by an Expert Panel – summary of its Interim Advice to the Government
The Government tasked an Expert Panel to recommend changes to the Hearing Services Program. The Program aims to reduce the impact of hearing loss by providing eligible people with access to hearing services.
The advice from the Expert Panel is published on the Health Department’s Hearing Services website
The Expert Panel sought written submissions and conducted direct consultation with a broad section of stakeholders including Deafness Forum of Australia and its advisers: Parents of Deaf Children, Aussie Deaf Kids, UsherKids Australia, Hear For You, and Deafness Council Western Australia.
The report by the Expert Panel, released in late May 2021 made the following recommendations to the Government:
- Defining new Objectives for the Hearing Services Program
Define the objectives of the Hearing Services Program to guide the expectations of those with hearing loss, the Department’s administration of the Program, the delivery of services by providers, the participation of other stakeholders in the Program, and the measurement and assessment of client outcomes.
- Extension of eligibility to additional priority populations
Expand eligibility to all Low Income Health Care Card holders and all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.
- Clearer delineation and support for Voucher stream and CSO stream clients
Replace the term ‘Voucher stream’ with a term such as ‘National Hearing Support stream’ to reflect the importance of rehabilitation as well as devices.
Remove adults with complex hearing needs and adults with cochlear/bone-anchored implants from the Community Service Obligation program and move them to the Voucher stream.
- Introduce audits and require providers to demonstrate that they have the capacity, skills and cultural awareness capabilities to support these clients.
- Making better use of Medicare
The Australian Government, through its management of Medicare, should include within the funded item ‘Health assessment for people aged 75 years and older’ a full diagnostic hearing assessment where considered warranted by the patient and the GP.
- Engagement with consumer groups
Establish a hearing services consumer consultation forum to facilitate information exchange, to seek advice on improving the equitable, effective, efficient and sustainable functioning of the Hearing Services Program and associated hearing activities, and to explore ways to increase the opportunities for consumer organisations to assist people with hearing loss.
- Client decision-making support
Develop a range of illustrative client pathways on the website that clearly show the options for clients who are eligible for hearing services in the Voucher stream and the CSO stream.
- Availability of translation, interpreting and Auslan services
Ensure that audiologists are made aware of the Auslan services available under the NDIS and the NABS programs and how to access these services.
- Delivering rehabilitation and support services
Undertake a review of the current Schedule of Fees to assess whether there is a bias that favours the supply and fitting of hearing aid devices ahead of, or instead of, providing rehabilitation services.
- Assessment of hearing loss
Redefine a hearing assessment to be a comprehensive process that involves an individual’s communication and psychosocial needs.
- Improving access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Work with key Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander stakeholders to co-develop alternative models of hearing service delivery that are culturally safe and accessible to increase the proportion of eligible Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people with hearing loss taking part in the Health Services Program.
- Improving access for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
Analyse shortfalls in engagement with, and outcomes from, the Health Services Program for culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
- Improve access for Regional, rural and remote communities
Maintain Hearing Australia’s role as sole provider of Community Service Obligation services, recognising the critical role that its service plays in maintaining access to hearing health care for eligible people living in regional, rural and remote areas and the likelihood that increased competition would exacerbate service availability for people with hearing loss who live in thin markets.
Telehealth is made more accessible for hearing healthcare practitioners to provide services to consumers, particularly those living in rural and remote communities.
- Improve access for residents of Aged Care Homes
Lift the quality of hearing health and care in aged care across the country, with a particular focus on identification, management and workforce training.
Ensure aged care assessment processes, including on entry to residential care, appropriately identify hearing loss and balance disorders.
- Supply and client choice
Improve consumer choice by making device providers publish the price and features of the devices they supply under the Program.
Look into removing the option of removing partially subsidised devices (using the value of the device provided by the Program as a contribution towards a more expensive device) from the Program.
- Broadening the scope of technology
Continue its support of tele-audiology and other technologies such as improving Bluetooth technologies as they are discovered and implemented, subject to evaluations of the benefits and costs of those modalities and the level of confidence and comfort felt by clients that their needs are being met.
- A national data service
Federal, State and Territory Governments should commission a feasibility study into the development of a national digital database of hearing screening of infants and children, recognising that the responsibility for universal newborn hearing screening and screening at any other age such as prior to starting school, lies with State and Territory Governments.
- Program monitoring and evaluation
Invest in a Data Plan for the Hearing Services Program that aims to support the monitoring of the Program’s achievements of its objectives.
Undertake an evaluation of the Program in two years, drawing on the improved data availability and measurement tools and a major external evaluation in five years.
- Research strategy
Develop a Research Strategy with the guiding principle being to ensure co-design with each relevant population cohort, with research priorities to include the removal of barriers to access to services and to facilitate the cultural appropriateness of service delivery.
- The Longitudinal Outcomes of Children with Hearing Impairment Study
The Australian Government should continue to fund the National Acoustics Laboratory to conduct the Longitudinal Outcomes of Children with Hearing Impairment (LOCHI) Study.