In March this year, the CDC warned people ages 60+ not to engage in non-essential medical care because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that included most of Andrew Dias’s patients. Dias is a Nationally Board-certified specialist and owner of Dr. Mullin's Hearing Center, with offices in Waldorf and Bowie. He provides hearing tests and general ear health and maintenance, as well as fitting hearing aids.
Dias has been in business since 1992, and many of his patients have become like family. Once a patient is fit with hearing aids, they come in for a checkup every three months. With four office visits a year, Dias creates a bond with his patients. “That’s actually the saddest part of my business,” he says, “when someone has passed on.”
But in March, their way of business had to change. “We went through a pretty tough period,” he said, “where nobody went anywhere, especially senior citizens.” One of the first changes they made to the office was installing plexiglass to protect both patients and staff. “I didn’t like that because I always felt like it was separating us from our patients, but I had to do it.”
They sanitized the office EVERY morning and between EVERY patient and also started using face shields and masks. Walk-in appointments were stopped. Only one patient is now allowed in the lobby at a time. Patients are asked to call the front desk from their car when they arrive to confirm that it’s safe to come in. They do have three areas to see patients, but this new policy has cut the number of office appointments each day to about 2/3 of what they were before.
They added an online booking system, where patients can schedule themselves. Dias said, “With our 24-hour scheduling, patients don’t have to wait until our office opens to make an appointment. That will help us even after the pandemic.”
The capability to program and adjust hearing aids remotely has also been an important piece of technology during this time. After an in-office fitting, patients can have their hearing aids adjusted from any location. “The ability for my patients to reach us remotely is important,” said Dias, “especially when we don’t have as many appointments available. So, instead of waiting a week to see us, they can message us, and we can take care of it right there.”
Another new technology, Livio Edge AI, has become very popular during the pandemic, with everyone using masks. AI technology improves speech understanding for those with significant hearing loss and helps in the most difficult listening environments. It gives patients an edge over regular hearing aids.
“One thing about hearing-impaired people is, they use their eyes also as hearing aids. If you take people’s mouths away, it makes it very difficult,” says Dias. “This Livio hearing aid has the best noise reduction ever developed. It has what’s called directional microphones that focus in on people’s voices and recognizes where those voices come from. It can pull voices out of the background sounds.”
He has fitted a lot of these devices during the pandemic and thinks they’ll still be popular post-COVID. The Livio hearing aids can also stream directly to a cell phone, at a person’s prescription. (Most hearing aids don't work directly with a cell phone, so it's hard for someone to understand over the cell phone. These stream the phone call at their prescription, so it's crystal clear.)
Though one’s hearing health might be considered “non-essential” medical care, Dias warns against putting it off. “The sad part of that is, people lose what they’re hearing now, but hearing aids actually stimulate the hearing nerve. The longer you put it off, the more hearing and understanding you lose.” With changes they’ve made to the office and policies, combined with technology that can turn in-office visits into remote, they’re keeping it as safe as possible.
Has your Charles County business made a pivot to its business model to get through the COVID-19 pandemic and even make you more resilient? If so, we want to hear your story. Please send a few lines to ReginalJ@MeetCharlesCounty.com and we’ll be in touch with you.