Listen up, there's a new way to have hearing aids fitted

Jiang Tianyi Wang Yanlin
People requiring hearing aids can now be serviced online, thanks to hearing care products provider Sonova.
Jiang Tianyi Wang Yanlin

Hearing aids used to require a personalized fitting, but as all businesses grapple with the transition from in-person services to online options amid the  coronavirus pandemic, the world’s biggest hearing-care products and services provider Sonova is turning to remote fittings.

“Remote hearing services can be used at many stages,” said Guan Jingjing, director of Sonova China Innovation R&D Center. “This includes consultation services, hearing loss evaluation, hearing aid selection, quality evaluation and speech recuperation.

“One way of categorizing remote hearing aid fitting is by cases in which audiologists face online audiologists, and cases in which audiologists face online clients.

“Currently, to have audiologists test hearing aid equipment while directly facing online clients is difficult, but this was something Phonak, a hearing aid brand under Sonova Group, was able to accomplish."

Phonak is a pioneer in tele health.

Earlier versions of tele health relied on a remote control computer desktop in conjunction with a video chat system, so remote hearing aid fitting would work as technicians controlled the remote hearing aid application while communicating with the user through a video call.

Now, Phonak hearing aids can be paired with a smartphone application (myPhonak) that allows users real-time, immediate access to an audiologist's responses to the information received from their hearing aids.

The mobility and convenience that comes with the utilization of smartphones is a significant advantage, especially during turbulent times.

More recently, Phoank introduced earphone-like hearing aids that can be connected via bluetooth with people’s smarketphones or TV.

“Initially, only 20 percent of clinics in European countries offer remote hearing services,” said Guan. “However, due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, contactless treatment, including remote hearing aid fitting and testing, is gaining more traction.”

When discussing potential challenges specific to the Chinese market, Guan mentioned the issue of adapting differing telecommunication systems.

“For international hearing aid developers, developing remote fitting services that correspond with Chinese Internet systems while ensuring quality data transmission might be a challenge," Guan said.

However, compared with that of European countries, the Chinese electronic business platform and online payment system is in some ways more mature.

“Chinese consumers are also more familiar with online service modes, thus more able to accept lifestyle changes that come with remote hearing aid fitting technology,” Guan said. “This would be an opportunity for tele health in China.”

To better target the Chinese market and cater to Chinese online behavior and practices, Phonak chose not to use email invitations, as would be used in European countries, but rather a more direct designated pairing method for remote support.

Listen up, there's a new way to have hearing aids fitted

Future of fitting

International organizations such as the WHO, and American medical associations such as ASHA and AAA all emphasize the importance of “quality” regarding the widespread implementation of a new medical service model. Thus, providing high-quality remote hearing aid fitting is still the priority of making this development prevalent in the future.

“For remote hearing aid services to be perceived as high quality, it has to be equivalent to offline services in terms of professionalism and effectiveness,” Guan said. “Therefore, remote hearing aid services are not as simple as online selling, or direct online tuning.”

When asked whether remote hearing aid fitting will replace traditional methods of face-to-face fitting, Guan’s response was firmly negative.

“The remote options offered are supplementary," Guan said. "They add value to services provided by audiologists and give users more opportunities to communicate with these professionals.”

Moreover, the fitting and testing of hearing aids is merely the first step in a patient’s road to recovery.

As the patient resumes normal communication with others, and as the brain accustoms itself to this new world of sound, the continuous assistance of audiologists is pertinent throughout this process.

“Audiologists are the crux of hearing aid fitting, regardless of whether this is done in person or remotely,” Guan said.

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