Over the course of the last several months, the entire planet has been rocked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In countries all over the world, private businesses have been forced to shut-down, companies have had to lay-off employees and citizens of all ages have been asked by the government to stay indoors while coming in little to no contact with friends or family. Just like every other industry in the US during these unprecedented times, the Hearing HealthCare (HHC) industry has been dramatically affected by the ongoing pandemic, but how does the US’ HHC industry compare to the HHC industry of other nations? For the rest of this blog post, we will try to answer that very question as we compare the current situation of the US’ HHC industry to that of several other countries in Europe that have also been dramatically affected by COVID-19.
HHC in the US
The pandemic really started to negatively affect the HHC industry here in the US sometime in mid-March, as this is when we really began to see audiology clinics and hearing aid providers begin to shut down their offices. It was no coincidence that also around this time, the government and world health officials recommended that all “non-essential business” close their offices for an extended period of time in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Hospitals and ENT offices have generally been able to see patients, but with the American Academy of Audiology’s recommendation for retail audiology offices to consider closing - plus the many state mandates to “Stay At Home” - the outcome has been the same: closing or reduced hours for the vast majority of HHC practices. As a crucial member of not just the HHC industry, but the healthcare industry as a whole, HHC clinics were deemed an essential business and have been permitted to stay open throughout the pandemic, leaving the choice of whether or not to stay open up to each individual clinic/practice’s owner. So what have HHC professionals during these unprecedented times chosen to do since then?
Even though some private practices have decided to completely shut-down their offices during the pandemic, a lot of practices have started offering new “telehealth” services so they can offer some assistance to their patients from home. While telehealth appointments have undoubtedly helped HHC professionals to stay in contact with their patients and advise them where they can, practices all over the country have still had to cancel appointments for tasks that simply can’t be completed online such as ear impression or cerumen removal appointments. In a survey last updated on April 22, The Hearing Review released some interesting findings and while these statistics were taken from a small sample size, they offer good insights into how COVID-19 has affected the entire HHC industry across America. For example, when asked the question “Has your practice applied for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Loan?” 66% of the HHC professionals surveyed said that they had already applied for the loan; meanwhile only 15% of those surveyed said that they were not intending to apply for the PPP loan. An even more shocking finding from this survey was the results gathered to the question: “What do you predict will be the effect of the coronavirus on your gross revenues for April?”, as 54% of those surveyed expected a decrease of more than 90% in revenue for the entire month of April at their practice.
HHC in Italy
As the virus began to spread throughout Europe, Italy was one of the hardest-hit countries on the continent with more deaths caused by the virus than any other European nation. The Italian government quickly put “lockdown measures” in place for the entire country in early March, as citizens were told to stay at home and remain there with all non-essential or “non-strategic” activities being ordered to stop. If caught outside of their homes during this time without “proven necessity”, Italian citizens could face a possible fine anywhere between 400 to 3000 Euros, or even a prison sentence of up to five years.
Similar to their distinction in the US, Italian hearing centers have been deemed essential businesses by the government and are permitted to stay open as long as the centers are staying in-line with government-mandated safety conditions. These conditions include limiting visitors and public access to the centers to avoid crowds forming, keeping all employees and visitors at least a meter apart and providing anyone inside the centers with proper hand sanitizer. If activities or procedures can’t be carried-out while abiding to these guidelines, such as an earwax removal appointment for example, then the activities must be suspended or rescheduled for a later date. Failure to comply with these conditions for any business can result in immediate closure, as well as a possible fine.
Thankfully for audiologists in Italy, telehealth services are readily available and much like audiologists in the US, Italian audiologists have been able to adapt to the need for this new technology in an effort to continue providing services to their patients from home. For more information on the Italian HHC industry, check out this article from audiology-worldnews.com.
HHC in Germany
On March 18, German Chancellor Angela Markel gave a televised speech to discuss the COVID-19 issue with the German public, which was the first time she had ever given a public TV address apart from her annual New Year speeches. During this speech, she stated that COVID-19 was “the biggest challenge for Germany since World War II”. Not long after the chancellor’s speech, a “contact ban” was put in place on March 23, which limited all German citizens to no public contact with more than one other individual at a time. Hearing centers in Germany have thus faced relatively relaxed guidelines from the government and have been allowed to stay open for business if owners choose to remain open, although many audiologists in the country have still closed-down or chosen to work remotely from home if they can.
Besides audiologists, another member of note in the German HHC community that has been severely impacted by the pandemic is hearing device manufacturers. Some producers of these devices have had to postpone new product launches as well as cancel training programs, tradeshows and other previously scheduled public events. This has had a negative effect on these manufacturers’ staff, as some employees of these manufacturers have had to be sent home or have their hours severely cut-back from what they normally are. For more info on the HHC industry in Germany, just click on the following link leading to an article from audiology-worldnews.com.
HHC in France
Things have been a little bit different for HHC professionals working in France during the pandemic. Although hearing centers have been deemed essential businesses by the government, HHC staff members were not on the government’s list of healthcare workers who had medical & safety equipment reserved for them (such as facemasks and gloves). This was a serious issue for French HHC professionals, as the country was already dealing with a shortage of such equipment, however many clinics and hearing centers still remained open even without some essential personal protection supplies. France’s government issued its mandated lockdown of the entire country on March 16, as French officials immediately began enforcing similar penalties to those in Italy for any individuals caught out in public without some type of “proven necessity”. Individuals who do not adhere to the French government’s mandated guidelines during the pandemic risk being fined anywhere from 135 to 3,750 Euros, as well as receiving a jail sentence up to six months.
For more information on the HHC industry in France, just click the following link to an article from audiology-worldnews.com. This article also gives a terrific behind-the-scenes look at what life has been like during the pandemic for one specific French audiologist who owns five different hearing centers in Paris!
HHC in Spain
Spain has been one of Europe’s most impacted countries by COVID-19, as the country has more confirmed cases of the virus than any other European nation, and their death count caused by the virus is currently second in Europe only to Italy. Like every other country discussed in this blog post, HHC professionals in Spain (including Speech Language Pathologists) were deemed to be essential employees by the government and have been permitted to keep their businesses open during the pandemic. Despite having to deal with a shortage of medical supplies - including facemasks - many HHC professionals in the country have remained open during the crisis in an effort to offer help to their patients that still dearly need assistance with their hearing. This is especially risky for not only some HHC professionals, but their patients as well as Spain reportedly has some of the strictest lockdown conditions in Europe. For example outdoor exercise is no longer permitted in Spain, as Spanish citizens are only allowed to be walking outside if they have to take their dog(s) out. If an individual is found to be breaking these government stipulations, they can face a fine anywhere from 600 to 60,000 Euros. According to an article from audiology-worldnews.com, between March 14 and April 12 Spanish police handed out 401,009 fines for violations of lockdown measures.
In addition to giving a great general breakdown or synopsis of the current state of affairs for the HHC industry in Spain, the article mentioned above also interviews a few individual HHC professionals from various parts of the country who detail their own personal experiences of their struggles with trying to keep their practices open during the pandemic.