Telehealth enables remote treatment for the hearing-impaired

New software being studied in Australia may allow patients with cochlear implants to maintain, and even repair, their implants from home. Users of system under development by Ear Science Institute of Australia plug their implants into their computer, and an audiologist at the treatment facility tests the device for problems in real time.

"We will be able to have a consultation with the patient in a video conference format via their own PC," Rob Eikelboom, adjunct professor with the center and co-developer of the software, tells the Science Network of Western Australia. "We will also be able to text chat because at some stage of the consultation and testing they won't be able to hear because the device will be turned off."

The new capabilities add onto ESL's existing telehealth program, which began earlier this year as a largely video-conferencing initiative between patients and audio specialists. That video component--being able to see and communicate with the testing clinician--is still crucial, even with the new ability to connect the implant directly to the computer, however. During testing, the patient must be able to indicate when they can or can't hear, or when certain sounds create discomfort, Eikelboom notes.

The device, now in pilot testing, should be ready for international release in late 2012, according to the Science Network coverage.

Note: This isn't the only cochlear implant technology on tap for mobile use. Earlier this spring, the National Institutes of Health announced several new projects, including ones to develop smartphone apps that can test cochlear implants, and other mobile devices that can make cochlear implants project speech more clearly.

To learn more:
- read the Science Network of Western Australia's piece
- see how the ESL's telehealth program has evolved
- check out Federal Telemedicine News' coverage of other mobile-enabled cochlear implant projects