Audiology in Belgium

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GENERAL INFORMATION

Belgium Map

Country Name Belgium
Population +/1 11.500.000
Area 30.689 km²
GDP (PPP) 550 billion USD
Languages Dutch (ca. 60% of population);
French (ca. 40% of population);
German (ca. 0,7% of population)
Currency Euro (€)

The Kingdom of Belgium is a sovereign state in Western Europe bordered by France, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and the North Sea. It is a small, densely populated country. Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 60% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises 40% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who live in the East Cantons located around the High Fens area, and bordering Germany.

Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (along with parts of Northern France and Western Germany) were known as the Low Countries; it once covered a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states. From the 16th century until the Belgian Revolution in 1830, when Belgium seceded from the Netherlands, the area of Belgium served as the battleground between many European powers, causing it to be dubbed the "Battlefield of Europe" a reputation strengthened by both world wars.

Today, Belgium is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of governance. It is divided into three regions and three communities, that exist next to each other. The King (Philippe I) is the head of state, though with limited prerogatives.

Belgium's strongly globalized economy and its transport infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region.

Since the country's independence, Roman Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics.

Basic education is situated between 3 and 18 years of age for Belgians - compulsory from 6 to 18 years. Among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (OECD) in 2002, Belgium had the third highest proportion of 18- to 21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education, at 42%.

Today's Belgium has seen the flourishing of major artistic movements that have had tremendous influence on European art and culture.

Some famous painters: Jan van Eyck, Peter Breughel, Peter Paul Rubens, James Ensor, René Magritte, Luc Tuymans

Some famous architects: Victor Horta, Henry van de Velde

Some famous musicians: Jacques Brel, Adolphe Sax, Toots Thielemans, Stromae, dEUS

Some famous authors: Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon, Amélie Nothomb

Some famous comic books: The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé, The Smurfs by Peyo, Lucky Luke

Folklore plays a major role in Belgium's cultural life: the country has a comparatively high number of processions, cavalcades, parades - nearly always with an originally religious or mythological background.

Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and fries with mayonnaise.

Popular sports in Belgium are soccer, cycling, tennis, swimming, judo and basketball.

Some famous athletes: Eddy Merckx, Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen (cyclists); Jean-Marie Pfaff (goalkeeper); Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin (tennis); Jacky Ickx (rally); Stefan Everts (motor cross).

 

History of Audiology

Summarized and translated from Verstraete, 2016.

History of Education and Rehabilitation of Deaf Children in Belgium

The so-called ‘Institute for deaf girls' in Ghent, the first Belgian school for deaf girls from 10 to 18 years, was founded in 1820 by Canon Triest (1760-1836). He sent a novice to Paris to study and learn the method of Abbé de l'Epee (sign language).

In 1867, David Hirsch (Rotterdam, the Netherlands) taught the novices the German Method, based on articulation and lip-reading.

In 1868, the Mixed Method was introduced, which combined sign language and speech.

Later, the institute became convinced that the oral method had the most benefits in educating deaf children (1881).

In the early years of the 20th century, oral education majorly improved by the introduction of the Belgian method (Alexandre Herlin). This method was inspired by the educational principles of Ovide Decroly and was the ground for the elaboration of the ‘Reflective Native Language Method’ by priest-psychologist Antoon van Uden. The Belgian method is a global method, in which words, sentences and conversations are the baseline. The long and tedious, analytical and alphabetical exercises were abolished.

With the installation of the 'radio' (an amplifier and a connection microphone combined with various helmets) in 1936, a new era had begun; it meant the introduction of an aural component in oral education.

As quoted above, from 1947 to 1966, the ‘Reflective Native Language Method’ of Antoon van Uden was used. The method is based on the everyday language and tries to combine it with learning language rules.

Mid ‘50’s, a kindergarten for deaf boys and girls and an institute for higher economic education for the deaf was founded.

In 1965 the 'Laboratory for Voice, Speech and Language Research ' was founded, but in 1968, it transformed into a rehabilitation center.

Meanwhile, the verbotonal method by linguist Petar Guberina (Zagreb, Yugoslavia) made its introduction in Flanders. This method starts from the optimal hearing spectrum and the reinforcement of the residual hearing of the child. Perception encourages speech, hearing is the basic condition for speech. The verbotonal method includes four disciplines: individual therapy with hearing training and speech and language development, corporal rhythm, musical rhythm and group therapy with audiovisual and structuroglobal components.

In the late ‘60’s, kindergartens and elementary schools for deaf children were established, (sometimes) combined with (semi) boarding schools; in the early ‘70’s day nurseries with a mix of deaf and hearing babies were opened.

Different rapid successive evolutions can be determined in the following years:

  • Good audiometry lead to better diagnostics, which resulted in the differentiation between ‘hearing impaired’ and ‘deaf’.
  • Class amplification systems were introduced in 1966, FM systems in 1974.
  • In 1979, the Ministry of Education introduced the first integration project for deaf children in the regular educational system.
  • A universal early hearing screening of babies or toddlers between 9 and 13 months was installed in 1980. Initially, the distraction-test (based on the orientation reflex on familiar sounds), also known as Ewing's test, was used. Since 1998 ‘Child and Family uses the highly reliable AABR-test, in the first 4 to 5 weeks after birth. A successful structured follow-up system is in place.

These developments, the early screening and rehabilitation, the use of the wireless FM equipment and the integration projects, stimulated school integration of deaf and hearing-impaired children. In different rehabilitation centers (geographically spread) aural rehabilitation was offered, completed with an offer of parental and environmental guidance and counseling.

History of Sound Amplification and Hearing Aids in Belgium

In the 19th century, mechanical hearing aids such as the horn were ‘sold’ on the Belgian market. At the beginning of the 20th Century carbon microphones were introduced. In the post-war year 1947, the transistor was invented, a revolutionary step in hearing aid technology. Mid-1960, body-worn hearing aids made an entry. A milestone in the evolution of the use of hearing aids was the use of FM.

From that moment on, remarkable and steady improvements in the sound reinforcement and hearing aid technology were visible: developments in the miniaturization, digital techniques (from 1988), evolution in fitting possibilities, in signal processing, the CROS-fittings, open fits, developments of the aesthetics of hearing aids and other aids, cochlear (1988) and other implants, Bluetooth, evolution of hearing aids to hearing solutions, etc. The adaptation of hearing aids and other assistive listening devices is much more than just a technical adjustment. This is seen as a part of a comprehensive approach, in relation to the individual and environment-oriented aspects of the person with a hearing loss.

History of Medical Audiology in Belgium

Medical Audiology (hearing and balance) knew the same rapid and continuous evolution as the hearing aid technology, in subjective and semi-objective techniques, as well as in objective audiometry.

History of the Education / Profession of the Audiologist in Belgium

Throughout the years, the role of the audiologist changed and expanded. Nowadays, the audiologist is the health care professional who works in prevention of and screening for noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), clinical/diagnostic audiology, hearing aid and cochlear implant fitting, rehabilitation and tinnitus management.

Hearing Loss Incidence and Prevalence

Unfortunately, there are no clear general figures on the incidence and prevalence of hearing loss in Belgium. There are only general estimations of hearing loss in Belgium.

Hearing loss

Based on the most recent numbers within the EuroTrak studies (EuroTrak Belgium, 2017), the prevalence of self-reported hearing loss in Belgium is 9.6% or 1.10 million citizens. Table 2 shows an increase in the prevalence numbers from 2.3% in the youngest age group (< 15 years) up to 33.7% in the oldest age group (>74 years).

Congenital hearing loss

Kind en Gezin (Child and Family) is a governmental agency that works actively in the 'Public Health, Welfare and Family’ policy area. This Flemish agency focuses on preventive treatment and guidance of young children, until school-age, geared to good outcomes in the future. This agency is, among other, responsible for the newborn hearing screening. Table 3 shows that in 2017, unilateral or bilateral congenital hearing loss was determined in 1.88 of 1,000 newborns.

Year Incidence of Neurosensory Hearing Loss/ Mixed Loss Incidence of Neurosensory Hearing Loss/ Mixed Hearing Loss >40 dBnHL best ear
2010 2.06 1.10
2011 2.20 1.15
2012 2.14 1.23
2013 1.73 0.82
2014 2.11 0.93
2015 1.85 0.88

Hearing aids

The Joint Report of The European Associations AEA, EFHOH and EHIMA (Laureyns et al., 2020) shows that the uptake of hearing aids by the Belgian people with self-reported hearing problems in 2017 was 30.7%, which was a little less than the European average of 33%. In 2019, the uptake in Belgium increased to 32.6%. These numbers are based on the refund of hearing aids in Belgium by the National Institute of Sickness and Disability Insurance.

The growth potential in selling hearing aids remains relatively high, considering that the Belgian population grows older and the demand for a hearing aid increases with age (Hoorapparaten, 2018).

INFORMATION ABOUT AUDIOLOGY

Educational Institutions

In Belgium, there is a professional bachelor programme and a master programme in audiology. Both lead to the same protected title of audiologist and audicien (hearing aid specialist).

Professional Bachelor in Audiology

There are 5 institutes for higher education that offer a professional bachelor programme in audiology.

For the Flemish speaking part:

  • Artevelde University of Applied Sciences, Ghent
  • HOGENT, Ghent
  • Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, Antwerp
  • Vives University of Applied Sciences, Bruges

For the French speaking part

  • Marie Haps Institute (Haute École Léonard de Vinci), Brussels

These programmes cover 180 European Creditation Transfer System (ECTS)-credits, spread over 3 years.

In the Flemish speaking part, all the audiology programmes are linked with the professional bachelor programme in speech and language therapy, with at least 60 and up to 120 ECTS-credits in common.

Master in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Sciences: Specialization Audiology

Two universities offer a master programme in speech-language pathology and audiology sciences with specialization in audiology, both in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium:

  • University of Ghent
  • Catholic University of Leuven

These programmes cover 300 ECTS-credits, spread over a 3 years academic bachelor course followed by a 2-year master study.

These master programmes are (more or less) in line with the master programme with specialization in speech-language pathology.

Both bachelor and master programmes contain essentials such as psychology, communication, health care, physics-acoustics, (electro)technology, anatomy, neurology, pathology, geriatrics, speech and language development, (neuro- and psycho-)linguistics, ethics, law, organization, management  and marketing, mathematics, statistics, and IT. It also covers the necessary knowledge and skills needed to practice clinical audiology and vestibulometry, hearing aid fitting and cochlear implantation, (aural and vestibular) rehabilitation and counseling, sound measurements, and prevention of hearing loss. Students work on a scientific research project and a compulsory 600 hours of practical training. All of this is prescribed in the law protecting the profession of audiologist/audicien (Koninklijk besluit betreffende de beroepstitel en de kwalificatievereisten voor de uitoefening van het beroep van audioloog en van audicien, 2004).

The aim of the professional bachelor programmes is to offer the theoretical knowledge, the practical skills, and the essential attitudes needed to function as an audiologist in the 4 main domains of audiology. The master programmes offers a strong theoretical and scientific basis in the academical bachelor and in-depth knowledge and skills across different clinical domains in the master years, in addition to focusing on management skills and research.

Websites of the universities and university colleges of applied sciences:

www.arteveldehogeschool.be

www.hogent.be

www.thomasmore.be

www.vives.be

www.ugent.be

www.kuleuven.be

www.vinci.bewww.ilmh.be

Audiology Practice: Public & Private

Clinical audiology, (aural and vestibular) rehabilitation and cochlear implantation are considered public services. Main costs are covered by the National Institute for Health Insurance. The assessment, fitting and therapy requires a prescription of an ENT-specialist and conducted in a recognized clinic/rehabilitation center/implant center to be covered.

The hearing aid fitting is also a public service. A prescription from the ENT-specialist is required to cover (part of the) patient costs; however, the reimbursement rates are fixed. There are guidelines and obligations concerning assessment, trial period and condition of hearing aids. However, in this domain, the audiologist can either work in a recognized audiological center or in a private practice.

Unfortunately, at this moment, tinnitus assessment and therapy are not covered by the general social health care system.

Professionals

Professionals Approximate number Ratio to the population
Audiologists 1,238 1/9,289
Audiciens
(Hearing Aid Specialists)
1,794 1/6,410
Otolaryngologists 755 1,15,232
General Practitioners 16,263 1/707
Speech-Language Pathologists 14,955 1/769

Audiological & Audicien (Hearing Aid Specialist) Services

Clinical / Diagnostic Audiology

  • screening for hearing loss
  • objective and subjective audiometric evaluation of auditory, vestibular and oto-neurological functions, including auditory processing disorders
  • assessment of tinnitus/hyperacusis

Hearing Aid Fitting

  • amplification of mechanical, electroacoustic and electronical devices (hearing aids, technical / aided devices and implants) in people with all different types of hearing loss (and multiple / complex needs). This also includes advising and guiding family and environment

Rehabilitation

  • aural rehabilitation. This includes hearing, communication and social skills training, counseling, guidance
  • vestibular rehabilitation
  • rehabilitation/management of tinnitus/hyperacusis
  • management of auditory processing disorder

Prevention / Noise Management

  • prevention of and sensibilization for (noise induced) hearing loss
  • noise measurements (sonometry, dosimetry)
  • amplification of noise protection systems

Educational Audiology – Services for School Children

  • screening for minimal/unilateral hearing loss
  • class amplification
  • maintenance of hearing aids
  • set-up and maintenance of assistive listening devices (e.g. FM-systems)
  • education and guidance of teachers/school environment

Audiologists in Belgium work in different settings (see overview):

  1. (University) clinics, hospitals and otolaryngology offices
  2. Private audiology practices
  3. Rehabilitation centers
  4. Educational institutes
  5. Industry
  1 2 3 4 5
Clinical / medical audiology X X X
Hearing aid fitting / Implant X X X X
Rehabilitation X X
Noise management X X
Educational audiology X

Services Offered by Otolaryngologists

Otolaryngologists oversee the medical and surgical management and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck.

On the domain of ear disorders, otolaryngologists are trained in both the medical and surgical treatment of external and middle ear disorders, perceptive hearing loss, balance disorders, and tinnitus with all possible causes.

SCOPE OF PRACTICE AND LICENSING

The paramedical profession of audiologist is protected by a Royal Decree (Koninklijk besluit betreffende de beroepstitel en de kwalificatievereisten voor de uitoefening van het beroep van audioloog en van audicien, 2004, 4th of July).

This law prescribes:

  • The necessary education: at least 3 years of bachelor or master training, covering different aspects (theory/skills/practical training/thesis) described in Educational Institutions
  • The acts / services audiologists are allowed to provide – described in Services offered by audiologists.
  • All the acts that can be conducted without prescription of a physician; that need a prescription of the ENT-specialist and/or that need to be on prescription of a rehabilitative physician.

Only persons who meet the necessary education mentioned above can work as an audiologist.

Certain services provided by the audiologist, can only be covered by the audiologist, such as the hearing aid fitting.

On the other hand, some of the services provided by the audiologist, can also be covered by other professions (e.g. clinical diagnosis by the ENT-specialist, rehabilitation by the speech and language therapist, sound measurements by an engineer or prevention manager, universal early hearing screening and school-age screening by trained nurses).

PROFESSIONAL AND REGULATORY BODIES

Regulatory Bodies in Audiology

All persons holding an audiology degree (bachelor or master) which meets the qualification requirements of the Royal Decree of 2004, need a ratification and a visa in order to work as an audiologist.

Technically, there are two separate ratifications, which over time have combined: ‘audiologist’ and ‘hearing aid fitter’ (in Belgium known as ‘audicien’). In the past, a person could be a hearing aid fitter but not an audiologist (medical audiology, rehabilitation, etc.). For all new applicants who covered the same compulsory educational bachelor or master training since 2004, these two will always be granted at the same time.

First, a ratification as a paramedic is required. In Flanders, the ratification is provided by the regional Agency of Care and Family. Ratification committees will give negative or positive advice on the application. In Wallonia, the Ministry of Education is responsible. After the ratification, the Agency/Ministry will communicate with the Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, who administers the actual visa.

In addition, audiologists working in hearing aid fitting need a ratification (number) of the National Institute for Health Insurance and Invalidity. 

Professional Organizations in Audiology

The UCBA/CEUPA is the Executing Committee of Audiology Unions in Belgium, established in 1989. 6 audiology unions are associated in this UCBA/CEUPA.

  • UBDA (Union Belge des Audiologues)
  • BGV-ABA (Belgische Vereniging Gehoorprothesisten)
  • UNAS-NUAS (Nationale Unie Audio Specialisten)
  • BVA –UPA (Beroepsvereniging van Audiciens)
  • VBA (Vlaamse Beroepsvereniging Audiologen)
  • VOAA (Vereniging Onafhankelijke Audiologen en Audiciens)

The UCBA/CEUPA is member of the AEA, Association Européenne d’Audioprothésistes.

All of the unions mentioned above try to unify audiologists in Belgium, in order to defend the professional concerns

  • Suggest the government on regularizations, law, decrees, etc.
  • Advise educational institutes concerning professional and educational profile of the audiologist
  • Guide over an ethical/deontological code
  • Guide over a scientific approach of the profession

The VBA (Vlaamse Beroepsvereniging Audiologen) developed the ethical code mentioned above (2016), which is recognized by the UCBA/CEUPA and the AEA.

http://www.vbaudiologen.be/UCBA-CEUPA-Deontologische-code-voor-Audiologen-en-Audiciens.pdf

Scientific Organizations in Audiology

In addition to abovementioned societies, B-audio is the Belgian audiological society with focus on scientific research. It is affiliated with the Royal Belgian Scientific Society for ENT-ORL. The most important objective of B-Audio is the promotion of information exchange in audiology, with the following activities:

  • gather the critical mass, and stimulate discussion and collaboration in the field of audiology in Belgium, across the different related disciplines (ENT, hearing aid professionals, audiologists, researchers, teachers, etc.);
  • regular organization of (sessions at) a scientific congress;
  • organization of training and education;
  • maintain relations with international audiology-organizations.

Information from: http://b-audio.eu/index.php/Public:Main_Page

AUDIOLOGY CHARITIES

CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES AND NOTES

The rapid technological evolution encourages audiologists, especially in hearing aid fitting and cochlear implantation, to lifelong learning.

More audiologists should be more comprehensively trained in tinnitus management, since there are long waiting lists for patients.

There should be more sensibilization on the developed guidelines on hygiene in the audiological practice. The guidelines should be applied in all settings.

The role of the school audiologist must find a stronger base, possibly through supportive educational agencies.

REFERENCES

USEFUL LINKS

Just for indent

  • Lijst met paramedische beroepsbeoefenaars die over een visum beschikken [List of paramedical professional practitioners who hold a visa] [Website]. (2017). http://www.health.belgium.be/nl/gezondheid/zorgberoepen/paramedische-beroepen#lijst
  • Laureyns, M. (2014, February). Professionele hoorzorg in Europa, waar staan we nu en waar gaan we naartoe? [Professional hearing care in Europe, current situation and future directions?] Oral presentation at Symposium 20 years Vlaamse Beroepsvereniging Audiologen (VBA) [Flemish Professional organization for Audiologists], Brussels/Belgium.
  • Laureyns, M., Bisgaard, N., Bobeldijk, M., & Zimmer, S. (2020). Getting the numbers right on hearing loss, hearing care and hearing aid use in Europe. [Joint Report]. AEA, EFHOH & EHIMA. https://www.aea-audio.org/portal/index.php/aea-action-plan/awareness
  • Van Kerschaver, E. (2016, November). Neonatal hearing screening. Oral presentation at Annual meeting Kind en Gezin [Child & Family], Brussels/Belgium.
  • Verstraete, E. (2016). Een wandeling door de geschiedenis van de audiologie [A walk through the history of audiology]. Signaal, 25, 18-29.

MEET OUR AUTHORS

Griet De SmetGriet De Smet (°1980) is an audiologist and speech and language therapist, involved as a lecturer in the audiology programme, University College Artevelde Ghent. Since 2007, she is head of the audiology department.

Email:  griet.desmet@arteveldehs.be

GALLERY

Melina Williams

Melina Williams is an audiologist, speech pathologist, and deaf interpreter. She has been a lecturer at the Artevelde University College, Department of Speech Language Pathology & Audiology in Ghent / Belgium since 1995. Her clinical experience consists of 15 years as an audiologist working at two different University Hospitals in Brussels / Belgium. She is also a Global Clinical Advisor for the Special Olympics Healthy Hearing Program. Melina is a co-founder of the Flemish Professional Society in Audiology in Belgium and a founder of the Working Group on Audiology & Intellectual Disability under the wings of the European Federation of Audiology Societies (EFAS).

 

Key Dates
First Published: 2017
Revised: 11/20/2020
Accepted: 11/21/2020
Published: 11/30/2020

 

Reviewed and Edited by:
Senior Editor: Vinaya Manchaiah
Regional Resource Editor (Europe): Melina Willems
Sub-Regional Resource Editor (Western Europe): Griet Mertens
Proofreading and Copyediting: Taylor Eubank