Turning Hearing Testing On Its Ear

As an otolaryngologist, like most medical specialists in Canada, I treat patients located in a wide range of locales – cities, remote northern communities, and rural areas. Working across such a diverse landscape, I see patients who face challenges accessing the same hearing testing as my patients in Ottawa.

I set out to solve this at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO); our idea was to develop a mobile point-of-care diagnostic tool that was so simple even a child could test their own hearing.

blog-hearing1Testing kids can be difficult, essentially you tell them to ‘sit quietly and listen.’ What we wanted to do instead was keep them engaged and tell them to ‘go ahead and play.’ So, we developed the ShoeBOX Audiometer, a game on an interactive platform. We give kids a specially calibrated iPad and they play their way through the hearing test. In the end, we have a clinically valid hearing test that is approved by Health Canada and the FDA. We’re now working with Clearwater Clinical to commercialize the product over the course of 2014.

The beauty of mobile healthcare is that you can democratise healthcare access to those who live in rural communities and reduce costs. Globally speaking, there’s not enough access to hearing healthcare, particularly outside of major urban centres in Canada. The World Health Organization estimates that 664 million people have hearing impairment, yet only 20 per cent of the world’s population has access to hearing testing; and only one in 40 will be fitted with a hearing aid. Testing kids hearing is especially crucial because hearing disabilities can have a tremendous impact on a child’s development, job prospects and eventual income.

blog-hearing2We’ve piloted the ShoeBOX Audiometer in Ottawa, Iqaluit and Uganda where we tested about 600 kids in just over a week with the help of a handful of staff.  This testing can also be done wirelessly. For example, a test can be performed in Iqaluit by an audiologist in Ottawa. These innovations increase access and lower cost by 115 per cent of the cost of standard equipment.

The ShoeBOX Audiometer recently received the TELUS Award for mHealth Innovation at the 29th Annual CATAAlliance Innovation Awards Gala and is on track for deployment in mid-2014 across a wide range of practices.