THE Ear Science Institute of Australia (ESIA) is building software that will allow for remote mapping and analysis of cochlear implants.
Patients currently need to visit the ESIA centre for cochlear implant maintenance but with the new telehealth software, patients in remote areas would only need a computer and an internet connection to test their implant.
Adjunct Professor Rob Eikelboom is the lead researcher for the cochlear implant remote mapping project and says the software could decrease the high level of ear disease in remote Australia and developing countries.
“Twenty per cent of our patients live about 200 kilometres or more away from the clinic. So they lose at least an entire day for one appointment. This project will alleviate that issue,” Prof Eikelboom says.
“We want to make the way we deal with patients more efficient.”
Under the software patients would be able to plug their implants into their computer and have them tested by audiologists in real time.
“We will be able to have a consultation with the patient in a video conference format via their own PC,” Prof Eikelboom says.
“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,” he says.
“We also need to get feedback from them as to what they can hear and normally that’s done by them pointing to a piece of paper saying ‘that’s comfortable, ‘that’s uncomfortable’ or ‘I can’t hear anything at all’.”
With this program they will be able to click a button indicating what they can or cannot hear.”
The project is at the first stage of testing and has received positive feedback but still needs to solve some issues.
“You have to cater for different network connections and connecting the device to the internet is not easy. Normally the device is plugged into a control box at a computer with the one of the institute’s audiologists.”
We are also going to test if programming this implant from a distance rather than from across the desk will affect the program,” Prof Eikelboom says.
ESIA gained funding for the project from the Austrian cochlear implant manufacturer MED-EL.
The project is expected to be completed and available for use nationally and internationally late next year.
ESIA is an organisation dedicated to research and treatment of ear and hearing disorders.