Accolades for Audiology

Sight + Sound, Spring 2022

The Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh has two exciting pieces of news to report. Lori Zitelli, AuD, received the Early-Career Audiologist Award from the American Academy of Audiology, and Catherine Palmer, PhD, Director of the Center for Audiology and Hearing Aids, was awarded $25K by the Pitt Innovation Challenge and $75K from the University of Pittsburgh’s Chancellor’s Gap Funding mechanism for the LiDIA device her team developed.

Lori Zitelli completed her AuD externship in the Department of Otolaryngology. After graduation, she started her clinical career in the same location. She worked her way up from audiologist to audiology manager. In addition to her clinical work, she serves as clinical instructor within the Department, a lab instructor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and as a research audiologist at the Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center.

According to her bio on the American Academy of Audiology website, Dr. Zitelli has garnered a reputation for her expertise in the areas of tinnitus, suicide awareness and prevention, telehealth applications, and interventional audiology.

When the Chair of the Awards committee called to tell Dr. Zitelli she was being recognized for her significant contributions to audiology, she was completely shocked. “I know so many inspiring early career audiologists and never thought that I’d be recognized this way,” she said. “I would never have received this award if it weren’t for the opportunities I’ve been afforded through my involvement in the exciting things we do at UPMC and at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Dr. Palmer said she truly cannot think of anyone more deserving. “Dr. Zitelli is nationally recognized as an educator both within the University of Pittsburgh and providing hours of continuing education for her peers,” she said. “She is especially sought after for her compassionate treatment of those who suffer from relentless tinnitus. We are so fortunate to have Dr. Zitelli as a colleague and leader here at UPMC.”

Meanwhile, as one of the Elevator Pitch Competition awardees in the Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh) – a program designed to support diverse teams who generate innovative solutions to challenging health problems — Dr. Palmer’s team received an additional $5K health disparity bonus award for LiDIA.

LiDIA stands for Listening, iDentification and Instant Amplification. “It directly addresses the main limitations of current state-of-the-art hearing screening and amplification techniques,” Dr. Palmer explained. “Instead of using an expensive set of calibrated headphones, the screening takes place with a set of inexpensive headphones that can be left on the user for immediate amplification purposes. Unlike existing hearing screening devices, the screening may take place even in noisy environments, and the procedure is simple enough to be carried out with minimal training burden. Finally, instead of requiring separate pieces of equipment for screening and amplification, the device can be transformed into an amplifier with the flip of a switch and with a dial for volume control, providing effective communication during health care interactions.”

The team has a fully working prototype. The combination of funding will move them into the first run of manufacturing LiDIA, which is essential for testing and finalizing specs. The idea is that LiDIA will identify individuals with hearing challenges and make health care interaction accessible. Untreated hearing loss is correlated with poor adherence to treatment recommendations, so anything we can do to improve communication during a health care interaction will be positive, Dr. Palmer said.

“Over 60 percent of older adults have hearing loss, yet only 18 percent use personal amplification, resulting in the majority of aging individuals being faced with effortful or inaccurate communication during health care visits, which present high stress, complex listening environments,” she added.