Loss of hearing results in a decreased quality of life. While hearing aids generally improve hearing by about one-half of the loss, they face significant barriers to use. According to a 2012 study of hearing aid usage by the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), only 1 in 7 American adults over 50 with hearing loss used a hearing aid, and a 2014 Cochrane report found that 5-40% of patients who already own hearing aids do not use them. The reasons are complex and multifactorial, including discomfort, insurance reimbursement issues, social stigmatization, inability to adapt to new technology, and lack of motivation. These problems require multifaceted solutions, and Eltima Software is one company reducing the barrier to use by reducing the effort required to get a hearing aid up and running properly. Their solution is to implement a tele-health protocol to allow patients with hearing aids to be reprogrammed and adjusted remotely, saving them from a trip to an audiologist. We spoke with Helga York of Eltima Software to learn more about their technology.
Ben Ouyang, Medgadget: What is Eltima Software and your tele-audiology solution for people with hearing aids?
Helga York, Eltima Software: At the moment, Eltima Software actively cooperates with hearing technologies companies which bring innovative solutions to the scope of hearing devices and their maintenance. For our part, we work to help integrate a new mechanism of remote reprogramming and adjusting hearing aid devices based on FlexiHub technology. Thanks to our technology, which hearing technologies companies incorporate either into the hearing aid maintenance process or their diagnostics, hearing care providers get a chance to remotely access the patient’s hearing aid, no matter how far is the patient from the medical technician. What it means for the owner of a hearing aid, is that instead of walking through HCPs doors looking for assistance, he or she can sit down at home, connect the device to their computer, and simply share the medical device over the Internet.
Medgadget: How does FlexiHub work?
York: 1. The patient attaches hearing aid device that requires reprogramming or adjustment to a computer – Windows, macOS or Linux (or even Android smartphone) – running FlexiHub and shares the USB device over the Internet (in some cases companies prefer to develop small portable hardware devices with FlexiHub integrated into it. Thus, the patient does not need even to install our software).
2. With the help of FlexiHub, an audiologist connects to the patient’s hearing aid over the Internet with a single click and gains full access to the device as if it were physically connected to the audiologist’s machine.
3. Then, the audiologist programs or adjusts the hearing aid device using their own professional reprogramming software application (it may be Avante or any other third-party solution). In combination with audio and video chat, the medical technician is capable of providing a high-grade assistance over any distance without the need for actual contact.
Medgadget : How do you ensure that your solution preserves patient privacy?
York: Each connection established with the help of FlexiHub is reliably protected with advanced 256-bit SSL encryption. Therefore, patients do not need to worry about the security of their sensitive data when sharing devices over the network. FlexiHub does not store any traffic on its servers, the solution just helps transport information between an audiologist’s PC and a hearing aid device via a secure SSL-channel.
Medgadget : How do patients feel about FlexiHub? How do clinicians feel about it?
York: The technology of remote access makes life simpler for both patients and hearing care providers. For potential users of hearing aid devices, FlexiHub is primarily a tool that offers better access to hearing solutions and audiology assistance without the need to visit local audiological clinics. For medical specialists, in turn, the reduced number of clinic visits for the device adjustment means the possibility to better leverage their time and time of their customers. Obviously, being able to reprogram the hearing aids from any remote location, professionals gain a significant advantage over other hearing aid service providers using traditional methods.
Medgadget: What’s been the biggest challenge in bringing your technology to market?
York: One of the biggest challenges was the US law that defined hearing aids as medical devices and required a consumer to visit a licensed audiologist for a medical evaluation prior to obtaining a hearing aid. That considerably affected the price of the solutions making them unaffordable for a large number of people living with hearing loss.
But after the Senate passed the bill allowing people to buy hearing aids without a doctor’s prescription in August 2017, the competition in the market of hearing aid devices significantly increased, the cost of the devices reduced and they became more accessible to people.
Today, hearing aid providers are looking for innovative ways to improve their products and our unique technology of remote access is just what can help them.
Medgadget : What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another team trying to make a telehealth solution?
York: It’s important to focus on the needs of patients, understand what difficulties they face and how modern technologies may help resolve them. The success of any telehealth solution depends in large part on which real benefits it delivers to the patient. That’s what matters the most.
More: InnerScope Hearing Technologies partnership with FlexiHub and Eltima…
Link: FlexiHub homepage…