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Helping Patients Hear, from Afar

How connected solutions can help patients with implantable hearing devices stay in touch with healthcare professionals and, ultimately, improve outcomes.

How connected solutions can help patients with implantable hearing devices stay in touch with healthcare professionals and, ultimately, improve outcomes.

David Hackshall

Distant, disconnected, aloof. Those have long been the primary meanings of the word "remote." However, modern technological advances are transforming what that term stands for, shifting it to convey a sense of being connected, albeit over long distances. And medicine, especially in the field of profound hearing loss, is a primary mover in this seismic transformation via telemedicine and digital connectivity.

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While remote fitting of cochlear implants for people with disabling hearing loss may be a far-off future state, digitally connecting doctors and patients living with an implantable hearing solution can be a real technological possibility. One of the challenges healthcare professionals have is losing contact with or being disconnected from a patient. Using technology to connect healthcare professionals with a cochlear implant recipient in real time will have a revolutionary impact on the lives of people with hearing loss.

The change agent will be real-time data and data analytics that transmit valuable information back to the clinician or audiologist. For example, your child can't be with your professional audiologist all the time. So after your child has had their fitting, they can stay connected to their health professional to maximize the value of the device.

Hackshall

At the moment, most people with a cochlear implant only have annual or semi-annual check-up appointments.  And as a parent, you want a level of comfort that your child is doing well and that there are no problems, or in the event that there are problems, they are caught early. And that's where digital data can change how hearing performance is monitored.

For example, you want to understand whether or not a child is constantly taking their processor off at school, when a parent is not around. You want to know that information when it's happening, not six months or a year later at an audiologist appointment. Being able to be proactive in real time would be a game changer and could be a reality for parents and professionals.

Another issue with people who receive cochlear implants is keeping them engaged with their progress. Remote gamification is an area that has great promise to help enhance hearing performance. An audiologist gives patients tasks to complete related to their cochlear implant, and over time those can become very mundane. Making those tasks, which can be monitored remotely by the audiologist, more engaging, more interesting, and even competitive, could make the rehabilitation process far more rewarding. In the not too distant future, this could be a real possibility from a technological standpoint.

The patient experience is already being enhanced today through digital technology because replacement parts can now be ordered and shipped much more expeditiously. A cloud-based technology platform pioneered by Cochlear called Cochlear Link streamlines customer service for patients, reducing the time someone may wait for a replacement part from a week to just 24 hours. That's a significant reduction of the stressful, "off the air" period a patient must spend living in total silence.

It is also well documented that the first year a patient receives their cochlear implant is the most important, and wireless connectivity applications that enhance this period are an area of great focus.  Referred to as "mapping," this first-year adjustment process is an integral part of restoring hearing. To properly optimize hearing performance, mapping needs to be done frequently and professionally by trained audiologists.

But not everyone can see an audiologist in person as frequently as they should during that early time period. That means that developing remote mapping functionalities to fine tune cochlear implants for first-year patients could mean many more recipients could completely maximize the benefits of their devices. And that's a future worth hearing about.

David Hackshall is chief information officer at Cochlear, a Sydney-based maker of implantable hearing devices. 

[image courtesy of AMBRO/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET]

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