Singapore’s first mobile hearing clinics
The one-stop clinic, which provides comprehensive hearing test, hearing aid fittings and aural rehabilitation services, is planning to screen 8,000 residents aged 40 and above.
Over the next two years, 8,000 residents aged 40 years old and above will benefit from a hearing diagnostic test conducted in a roving Mobile Hearing Clinic (MHC) at a Community Centre/Club (CC) or Residents’ Committee Centre (RC) near their homes. It is estimated that more than 400 of them will also be fitted with a hearing aid to enhance their quality of life.
The MHC is an initiative by the National University Hospital’s Department of Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT)) – Head and Neck Surgery to make hearing services more accessible and to raise public awareness about how hearing loss can impact daily life adversely.
“The mobile hearing clinic project aims to increase the accessibility of hearing health and raise hearing awareness by bringing the services closer to the community. Hearing aid is a medical device that needs to be prescribed and fitted by trained personnel to ensure optimum outcome. Getting one off-the-shelf without proper review and advice can cause more hearing problems for the individual,” said Chong Sheue Lih, programme director of MHC and an audiologist at the NUH ENT Clinic.
Chong observes that among the residents who have been diagnosed with hearing loss, many of them did not go to a hospital for a hearing check-up. She believes one of the factors may be the lack of awareness of the negative effects of hearing loss. “Although hearing loss is not life-threatening, it causes communication difficulties and affects the daily activities and quality of life of hearing-impaired individuals and their families,” she explained .
International studies have shown that elderly with hearing loss are also more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as compared to their counterparts with normal hearing. Untreated hearing loss can result in depression, anxiety, frustration, social isolation and reduction in the quality of life.
Many already screened
There are currently two such roving clinics and each clinic is equipped with two audio testing rooms comprising a comprehensive suite of hearing test equipment and hearing aid fitting systems.
In partnership with People’s Association (PA) and as part of its Wellness Programme, the MHC, which started on December 14, 2015 has screened about 500 residents living in Bukit Panjang, Tampines West, Yuhua and Nee Soon Central. The PA Wellness Programme seeks to engage seniors in activities which help them stay mentally, physically and socially active. One such activity is health screening with intervention.
About 82 percent of the 500 people screened suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Among them, 70 percent were diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss, which may progress to a more severe form of hearing loss. About 50 of them also had their hearing aid fitted, with 30 more expected to be fitted in March.
NUH will continue working closely with the PA to increase awareness of this service. By March this year, this service will be extended to residents in Queenstown. The MHC services will be expanded in phases to serve more than 20 CCs or RCs. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 9am – 6pm. Residents can find out details about the screening locations at https://www.nuh.com.sg/ent/mobile-hearing-clinic.html and make an appointment through the CC or RC where the screening will be held.
Clinical advisor to the MHC and a visiting ENT surgeon at NUH, Dr Lynne Lim said that the importance of hearing well is underestimated. She said, “Only one in 10 who can be helped by hearing aids is using them. This is a pity as the great advancements in hearing aid technology now offer tailored solutions with improved performance. Fitting a hearing aid early rather than when the hearing loss is severe achieves better outcomes, as the brain has had less sound deprivation, and adapts faster.” Dr Lim is also an adjunct associate professor at the Department of Otolaryngology at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.
The cost of screening is S$5 and an additional S$15 for those who require further evaluation. Hearing aids range from S$1,800 to S$3,200 and eligible individuals can enjoy at least 90 percent in financial assistance (capped at S$2,700 or whichever is lower) through the Seniors’ Mobility & Enabling Fund (SMF) or the Health Services Development Programme (HSDP) fund.
Residents who sign up for the service will be part of a research that aims to study the cost effectiveness of active screening for the public and how hearing aids help to reduce the burden of the disease. They are required to fill out some questionnaires and be committed to follow through the treatment that is prescribed for them.
Screening early crucial
The MHC is funded by the Ministry of Health’s HSDP at S$4.6 million, which was officially launched recently by Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Member of Parliament for Yuhua Constituency, at the Yuhua Community Club. She added in her speech that close to 200 Yuhua residents have visited the NUH Mobile Hearing Clinic and about 80 percent of them are diagnosed with hearing loss. “That is quite a big number. As of today, about 40 of them have either opted for and undergone hearing aid fitting, or referred to NUH for ear treatment.”
She urged her residents to go for screening early and seek treatment as hearing is “an important part of health” and intervention can help. “Many residents have benefitted from this service and have received hearing aids and they are now able to hear and communicate better. This in turn leads to improved quality of life.”