Smartphone hearing screening for developing countries and rural areas


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Calibrated hearing screening with a smartphone has been found to provide comparable results to conventional audiometry in a new study. Professor De Wet Swanepoel and colleagues from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and collaborators in Australia and the US, tested hearScreen, a smartphone Android app that can be used in rural areas and in low-resource countries with a much lower cost than conventional methods.

South Africa introduced a new health policy in 2012 requiring that all Grade 1 learners (6 to 7 year-olds), that is more than 1 million children every year, be screened for hearing loss. This prompted the research team to look into methods of providing an easy-to-use, cost-effective hearing screening device that could replace the cumbersome and heavy devices and equipment that are used today.

“Anyone who knows how to operate a mobile phone can set up the ‘hearScreen’ device,” says Prof. Swanepoel. “It significantly improves and alters current models of school and community-based identification of hearing loss. Africa needs cost-effective and sustainable methods with which to identify hearing loss in young children,” he adds. “Mobile health technologies such as this app are becoming more and more important in taking healthcare to the people who would otherwise not have access to hearing screening.”

The team tested calibration protocols, the effects of varying battery levels, and environmental noise to validate their system. They found comparable referral rates, with 4.3% for the hearScreen app and 3.7% for conventional methods. The results of their studies were published in an article in the International Journal of Audiology on July 7, 2014.

Source: Swanepoel, DW et al. Smartphone hearing screening with integrated quality control and data management. International Journal of Audiology 2014 Jul 7:1-9.