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AudA Accredited Audiologist, Jane MacDonald Talks Hearing Awareness

Mar 4, 2024

This World Hearing Day (WHD) 2024 and Hearing Awareness Week, we spoke to CEO of the Hearing Business Alliance and Chair of the Hearing Health Sector Alliance, Jane McDonald on the importance of hearing healthcare as a global health issue, barriers to accessing services in Australia and the true cost of not meeting our hearing health needs.

CEO of HBA and Chair of HHSA, Jane MacDonald

What does this year’s WHD theme ‘mean’ to you?

This year’s World Health Day theme, “Changing Mindsets: Let’s Make Ear and Hearing Care a Reality for All,” provides the opportunity to consider this global health issue, often overlooked. Hearing healthcare around the world is not as accessible as it is in Australia. By shifting mindsets and emphasising the importance of ear and hearing care, this year’s theme invites consideration of the challenges faced by those around the world living with hearing and ear related issues. Promoting ear and hearing care enhances individual well-being and fosters inclusivity and equality within societies. This can be achieved via education, advocacy, and improved healthcare infrastructure. This 2024 WHD theme highlights the importance of ensuring equitable access to hearing healthcare services for all, to advance the goal of universal health coverage, leaving no one behind in the pursuit of a healthier, more inclusive world.

What do you see as some of the barriers to access to hearing care?

Barriers to accessing hearing care, especially for marginalised groups like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, and those living in regional and remote locations, include limited availability of services in remote areas, financial constraints, cultural and linguistic barriers, and stigma surrounding hearing loss. Overcoming these obstacles necessitates improving healthcare infrastructure, enhancing affordability and accessibility, promoting culturally sensitive care, and raising awareness to combat stigma. Addressing these barriers will assist reducing delays in diagnosis and treatment.

What are the real costs and consequences of not meeting these needs?

The real costs and consequences of not meeting ear and hearing care needs for our First Nation’s peoples, and those living in regional and remote communities are significant. They include decreased quality of life, social isolation, cognitive decline, mental health issues, reduced productivity, economic burden from healthcare costs and loss of productivity, and exacerbation of existing health disparities.

How can we begin to change the health conversation around hearing and hearing loss?

The lack understanding among healthcare providers about hearing health and when to refer patients to audiologists and audiometrists stems from limited training and awareness. Often it is thought that hearing loss is a standalone issue. To change the conversation, we need to enhance education for healthcare professionals, promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and raise public awareness to reduce stigma and encourage proactive management of hearing health.

What information or engagement is needed to change public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss?

Changing public perception and understanding of hearing health and hearing loss requires a multifaceted approach. Key elements include educational campaigns to raise awareness. As part of the $21.2M investment to implement key initiatives from the ‘Roadmap for Hearing Health’, the Australian Government announced in the 2020 Federal budget an investment of $5M for a ‘National Hearing Health Awareness and Prevention Campaign’. This was launched on 8 May 2023. These campaigns can include personal stories to foster empathy, engagement with healthcare professionals and policymakers for support, and integrating hearing health education into school curricula. This holistic approach aims to enhance awareness, break down stigma, promote early detection, and encourage proactive measures for hearing care.

Any famous last words of wisdom?

World Hearing Day provides a focal opportunity to remind us that hearing plays a crucial role in connecting us to the world, enabling communication, understanding, through sound, language, and music. Communication contributes to relationships, safety, and appreciating our surroundings. Equitable access for all is important. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the improved quality of life in my work as an audiologist, a business co-owner delivering clinical audiological services to our regional and rural areas. This is in addition to my role as CEO of the Hearing Business Alliance, the business body representing approximately 155 small-medium audiology businesses, servicing their local communities at more than 660 locations across Australia. My role as Chair of the Hearing Health Sector Alliance ensures collaboration across the HHSA constituencies of Professionals, Researchers, Industry Providers, and -most importantly- those living with hearing and ear-related issues.

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