A team of researchers stretching from the United States to Australia have demonstrated the use of a low cost Android device and headphones to effectively screen children for hearing problems.
In an article in the International Journal of Audiology, a group of researchers from the University of Texas – Dallas, University of Pretoria (South Africa), and the University of Western Australia describe the development of a platform targeted at resource poor regions to screen children for hearing problems. They used an $80 Android smartphone and a pair of $35 headphones, plus the hearScreen app developed at the University of Pretoria.
After initial phases in which they validated the acoustic calibration of the smartphone-based platform as well as its ability to monitor environmental noise, they tested it on a group of elementary school children in comparison to standard screening techniques. Not only did they find comparable rates of children identified for further testing, they also demonstrated the ability to automate tracking of a large amount of data using the connectivity offered by the smartphone platform.
In their study, they first describe two phases in which they validate components of their platform.
First, they used an artificial ear to demonstrate that the smartphone-platform could be calibrated according to standard practices. In addition, they did this testing at varying battery levels and found no effect on their ability to calibrate the device. Second, they tested the ability of the smartphone microphone to be used as an environmental noise monitor; here the comparator was a sound level meter. They highlight an interesting advantage in the smartphone platform in that it is able to capture ambient noise data in real-time and store that with the associated hearing screening tests.
Evaluation in children
The hearScreen app was used to screen just over 150 children in Pretoria, South Africa and the data was compared to screening results obtained using standard practices. In comparing the test results by ear, they found agreement between the two strategies in 98% of cases. Both approaches had comparable referral rates as well, coming in at 4.3% for the hearScreen app and 3.7% for the usual practice. Use of an app was not any faster, however, as both screening tests took about a minute to complete. However, the ability of the hearScreen app to automate data capture and transmission to a central database was identified as a significant advantage over the standard practice.
Coming in at just about $100 for the entire platform, these findings offer a very concrete and scalable strategy for improving access to hearing screening. With others evaluating various apps and peripherals for use in vision assessment, smartphones are increasingly being positioned as tools to enable screening programs to reach a much wider population.
Ed Note: Pediatricians, Otolaryngologists, and other hearing specialist – we’d love to hear your thoughts. Share your insights below