Hearing tests by phone to improve testing rates


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Estimates of people in the United States with some degree of hearing loss often reach 30 to 40 million. But half have probably never had a hearing test. A team from Indiana University, Bloomington, has proposed a solution to this problem: a screening test that can be taken over the phone (provided the person has a landline). One of the biggest challenges according to hearing experts is getting people to admit that they cannot hear as well as before. It is hoped that hearing testing by phone could help people to get help early, making all the difference in terms of effective treatment.

The system, modeled on methods in place in several other countries, takes no more than 15 minutes and is currently free of charge, thanks to funding from a National Institutes of Health grant. To take the test, participants need to listen to several random series of three numbers. Each time, they need to respond by entering the numbers they think they heard. The test includes varying levels of surrounding static noise to simulate real conditions. After completing the test, an automatic message informs the participant whether or not they may have a hearing problem, and if necessary, suggests that they contact an audiologist for further evaluation.

According to Charles Watson, professor of speech and hearing sciences at the university, “The test isn’t intended to replace a formal evaluation, just to help draw attention to problems and encourage people to seek help.” He hopes the program can be extended and even become a free national hearing test.

Others are skeptical about over-the-phone testing. “Every individual is unique and what causes their hearing loss is very unique. That’s why with this type of screening, the only thing it could do is raise awareness,” says Karen Mitchell, director of audiology and hearing aid services at the nonprofit Columbus Speech and Hearing Center.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch