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Remote care for cochlear implant users

Published: 
22 January 2016
Dr Helen Cullington
Dr Helen Cullington

Audiologists from the University of Southampton are investigating how a new patient–centred approach can help cochlear implant users manage their own care programme.

A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that can improve a person’s ability to hear and understand speech if they can't benefit from a hearing aid. There are more than 13,000 people using cochlear implants in the UK.

Currently, cochlear implant users have to visit their implant clinic annually for the rest of their lives to monitor hearing and check their implant device. However, some patients are looking to manage their own care needs or they may not be able to attend clinic sessions due to work, family commitments or travel considerations.

This month, a new study from the University of Southampton Auditory Implant Service will see 60 patients take part in a clinical trial using an online care package to determine whether the routine annual check can be replaced with a personalised online version, better suited to the user’s needs. The study is being funded by the Health Foundation.

Dr Helen Cullington, who is leading the study, said: “We’ve found that more users are becoming empowered and want to manage their own care. We want to find out how feasible it is to offer remote care. It won’t be for everyone but it could make a major difference to the lives of many cochlear implant users.

“We are also interviewing clinic staff, as we are interested to see what the impact of remote care is on them and the service that they provide.”

During the six-month randomised trial, half the participants will undertake the standard clinical programme, while the other half will undertake the remote care package.

 The patients will monitor their hearing and do their own hearing rehabilitation and device care at home using an open source software programme developed at the University called ‘Lifeguide’. They will manage the majority of their care needs through information, hearing exercises, troubleshooting support and setting training goals. Some patients will also be able to fine-tune their hearing at home to suit their own real-world environment.

At the end of the trial, participants will do a hearing test and an implant check to see if the remote care package provides the feedback and support users need and if it can be adopted around the country.

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