Lively, a New York-based hearing aid provider, has recently announced their online platform for customers to take virtual hearing tests, purchase hearing aids, and receive videocall support from doctors to fine-tune their hearing aids. The platform represents a telemedicine solution for the hearing-impaired, and allows people to receive treatment for their hearing loss from the comfort of their own home.
The company reports that 35 million Americans suffer hearing loss, and over 85% of these are untreated. Lively aims to make it easier for people to access treatment for their hearing loss, and has turned to telemedicine to achieve this. The system involves participants taking an online hearing test, and then meeting with an audiologist through a video conference call.
Participants then have the option to purchase hearing aids, which come with two years of unlimited support from clinicians to help fine-tune or troubleshoot the devices. Clinicians can connect with and adjust the hearing aids remotely, meaning that an office visit is not required.
The hearing aids are FDA-approved, and can be paired with a tablet or smartphone through a Bluetooth connection, allowing users to stream calls or music to their hearing aids if desired. Opening the Lively app also allows users to discreetly control their hearing aid volume and select preset parameters for various environments, such as traffic or the office. The company also claims that their hearing aids improve sound localization, automatically reduce unwanted background noise, and allow users to hear sound from any direction.
Medgadget had the opportunity to ask Lively CEO Adam Karp and audiologist Dr. Harvey Abrams some questions.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of hearing impairment, and the problems it creates for sufferers.
Harvey Abrams: Hearing loss affects around 35 million Americans, and goes untreated all too often. The problems often start out subtly and progress in such a way that the patient becomes accustomed to what is, in fact, a significant amount of hearing loss. A range of situations ensue – some of them very simple, such as needing to turn up the volume on your TV, or asking people to repeat themselves, and some of them quite serious, such as a correlation to increased falls, social isolation, depression and dementia.
Medgadget: Why is there such a high number of hearing-impaired people who do not seek treatment?
Harvey Abrams: The fundamental reasons why the hearing impaired don’t get care are 1) access – meaning that it’s difficult or impossible for them to schedule an appointment and get to the audiologist’s office, 2) price – the average cost of a pair of high-quality devices is more than $5,000, and 3) embarrassment – a feeling that the hearing aids make them look old, or that it will be obvious to the people around them that they are wearing them. It’s exactly these three barriers that Lively seeks to tackle, which is the reason I’m so excited for the potential of this company to make a significant impact on the hearing crisis.
Medgadget: Traditionally, people have needed to visit a store to undergo a hearing test and purchase a hearing aid. Do you think this has been a factor in the low uptake in hearing aids among the hearing impaired?
Adam Karp: Lively did a tremendous amount of research to understand what keeps people from getting the hearing care that they need. On average, people wait 7 years after learning of their hearing loss before they seek help! Our research showed that visiting an office to undergo a hearing test and purchase a hearing aid is a significant barrier that keeps people from getting care. Why have all of the technological improvements of the past decades focused on making it easier for us to consume media and order junk, when those same tools could be used to significantly improve our health?
Medgadget: How did the idea for a telemedicine solution for hearing-impaired people come about?
Adam Karp: Lively can’t claim to have invented the idea of a telemedicine solution for hearing-impaired people – audiology researchers identified telemedicine as an enormous opportunity to increase access to hearing care many years ago. Nor can we claim to be the first company to sell hearing devices online. What we can claim, proudly, is to be the first company to have invested in building the platform and technology it takes to provide high-quality hearing aids online with the support of an audiologist. We believe this distinction is significant and positions us to transform the hearing care market.
Medgadget: Please tell us a little about the features your hearing aids offer.
Harvey Abrams: Lively’s hearing aids are high end devices that would work for the vast majority of those who are hearing impaired. The devices pair with a smartphone, so users can stream calls, music, or (a popular favorite) – their GPS directions, directly to their hearing aid. That connection to the mobile device also means that the hearing aid can be discreetly adjusted to control volume or select presets for the office, restaurants, or other environments, all without the need to remove the hearing aid. The hearing correction and background noise reduction is excellent, and of course, the hearing device can be adjusted remotely by a Lively audiologist!
Medgadget: So, how does the online hearing test work? Does it require any additional equipment other than a laptop or PC? What about smartphones or tablets?
Adam Karp: The hearing assessment can be taken from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. The only additional equipment required is a pair of headphones. The results of the test allow us to custom program the hearing aids for each client before we send them out. As clients adjust to wearing hearing aids, many of them require fine tuning of their devices. Historically, they would need to travel to an audiologist office for these tunings but through Lively’s app they can request these tunings to be performed remotely.