KEY STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS FOR 2004-05
Improved Access for Special Needs Groups
Hearing services for clients with special needs are delivered directly to these clients by Australian Hearing
, the public provider, and are funded under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office. Clients with special needs include:
- children and young adults under 21 years of age;
- voucher eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
- voucher eligible clients with complex rehabilitation needs; and
- voucher clients in remote areas.
In 2004-05, 36,407 special needs clients received hearing services from Australian Hearing.
As part of its services, Australian Hearing manages a program providing upgrades and replacement speech processors for children and young adults under 21 years of age who have been fitted with a cochlear implant hearing device. These children and young adults suffer from severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss or nerve deafness. An integral part of the implant is an external speech processor which interprets the signals reaching the brain.
In 2004-05, an additional $2.4 million was allocated to improving children’s access to cochlear implant speech processor upgrades, bringing the total allocation for this purpose to $2.821 million for the year. As a result of this funding, Australian Hearing was able to remove waiting lists for children seeking cochlear upgrades. During the year, Australian Hearing delivered 379 upgrades and replacement processors to profoundly deaf children and young adults, compared to 92 upgrades provided in the previous year.
Establishment of the Hearing Services Consultative Committee
A key achievement in 2004-05 was the inaugural meeting of the Hearing Services Consultative Committee. The Committee was established by the Minister for Ageing to provide her with advice on strategic directions for the national provision of hearing services and emerging issues of concern.
The Committee has already identified a number of key issues that it intends to investigate in the coming year and present recommendations to the Minister. Some of the issues it will review include: eligibility and access to the Hearing Services Program (the Program); consumer expectations; and access to hearing services under the Program, particularly for special needs groups.
The establishment of the Committee provides an additional mechanism for consulting with the hearing services industry and community, and informing the development of strategies that will enhance the delivery of hearing services to eligible clients.
Quality Assurance and Streamlined Contractual Arrangements
In 2004-05, the Office used two methods to assess benefits to clients and their satisfaction with the Program. The first method was the annual Office of Hearing Services Survey. The results of this survey indicate a high level of client satisfaction with the Program, with 94.6 per cent of active voucher clients reporting that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the level of customer service they received from their service provider. This compares with a client satisfaction rate of 92 per cent in the previous year. A substantial proportion of active voucher clients (96.3 per cent of respondents) also indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received from the Office.
In addition to the Survey, the Office conducted a number of Consumer Focus Groups in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. The overall view of the new and return voucher clients who participated in these groups was that the Program continues to offer substantial benefits to its clients.
The high level of satisfaction with the Program is due, in part, to the effective quality assurance systems established by the Office to monitor hearing services delivered to voucher clients. One such system was introduced during 2004-05 to help new service providers better understand and meet their contractual and clinical obligations. Under this system, each newly accredited service provider is allocated a ‘New Provider Support Officer’ within the Office, as a central point of contact for support and advice. Further support and feedback is provided at a three month review of the provider’s client files, and through the provision of audiological advice. A follow-up visit takes place toward the end of the first year. The overall focus is on assisting providers to understand their obligations under the Program and to put in place work practices that will deliver high quality hearing services to voucher clients. All 23 providers accredited during 2004-05 participated in this process.
The Office continues to investigate avenues for streamlining and improving requirements and processes for delivering hearing services to voucher clients. A major improvement which was implemented in 2004-05, enables providers to proceed with the refitting of a hearing device where clinically appropriate, for example, where an assessment of the client indicates a deterioration in their level of hearing loss. Previously, providers were required to seek approval from the Office for all refits prior to proceeding. As well as eliminating some of the ‘red-tape’ which providers are required to navigate, the new procedures have reduced the waiting times for clients requiring this service.
Another key achievement for the Office during 2004-05 has been the development and negotiation of new specifications for ‘freeto- client’ hearing devices supplied under the Program. The existing specifications no longer reflected contemporary standards in hearing technology. Against these static specifications, the technological advancements in hearing devices over the past eight years had led to a marked variation in the standard of devices available free-to-clients and those available as ‘top-up’ devices.
Under the new specifications, clients accessing hearing services under the Program will be able to choose from a range of higher performing ‘free-to-client’ devices, including behind-the-ear devices with the following additional features:
- a switchable or adaptive directional microphone;
- noise suppression; and
- a feedback management or cancellation system.
These additional features will substantially improve client outcomes by, for example, improving speech intelligibility in noisy situations.
The new specifications will come into effect on 1 October 2005.
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Enhanced Access to Hearing Services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Living in Remote Localities
While eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access hearing services through the voucher component of the Program, many access these services at either an Australian Hearing centre or through the Australian Hearing Outreach Program. This Program, known as the Australian Hearing Specialist Program for Indigenous Australians (AHSPIA), focuses on providing tertiary level hearing and related services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in urban, rural and remote localities. 3,221 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients participated in the AHSPIA program in 2004-05.
Statistical information shows that the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is lower than that of the general Australian community. As hearing loss is often associated with age, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people entering the Program is low compared to the general community. For example, only 0.8 per cent of all clients (those with special needs and active voucher clients) who accessed the Program in 2004-05 identified themselves as being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.
The Office has continued to investigate and assess alternative models that would broaden the delivery of culturally appropriate hearing services to this sector of the community.