UPMC Audiology has several programs that provide free hearing health care. Although these programs are well attended, the challenge is reaching all the individuals who need this assistance. To better reach people in the community who may have hearing loss, the UPMC Center for Audiology and Hearing Aids is developing three outreach projects that they hope will connect more individuals to the hearing care they need.
The most community forward approach utilizes community health workers. Community Health Care Workers are trusted individuals in the community who are trained to provide assistance and to support a pathway to care. Catherine Palmer, PhD, UPMC Director of Audiology, wants to engage with community partners to incorporate hearing screening, use of simple amplifiers, use of free app-based communication solutions, communication strategies, safety alerts, and hearing care resources into community health worker training and education.
The problem is there is no centralized program that trains or coordinates community health workers. The Eye & Ear Foundation Community Outreach Committee (COC) has been trying to figure out where community health workers come from and how to best work strategically with UPMC or other organizations to incorporate vision and hearing screenings. Funding is needed for this project.
A second project is to launch LiDIA. LiDIA – which stands for Listening, iDentification and Instant Amplification – is a device Dr. Palmer’s team developed to address the main limitations of current state-of-the-art hearing screening and amplification techniques that can be implemented in real time in health care settings to improve patient/provider communication.
“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,” Dr. Palmer explained. “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 third community outreach project is Hearing SUPPORT: Scale of Usability, Performance, and Participation for Optimizing Real-World Technology. The idea is to increase research capacity by providing a validated, consumer-driven laboratory test protocol that can predict real world listening function when using amplification devices.
A major barrier to treating hearing loss is navigation through the hearing health care delivery system, which can be overwhelming. A performance standard for amplifiers will empower consumers, audiologists, health care providers, product developers, insurers, and policy makers to make decisions about amplification based on standard, consumer-centered metrics.
These projects – developed by the UPMC Audiology team, with support from the Department of Otolaryngology – take different approaches to provide more options to people in need of hearing care. The Eye & Ear Foundation will continue to commit resources to these efforts to ensure their success.