Mobile Hearing Tests Prove Successful in the Field and Beyond

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Competence Center Hearing | Prevention of vision and hearing loss

Mobile technology is changing the way hearing tests are done, improving access to hearing care and improving preparedness because it can now be done anywhere.

The automated, wireless equipment allows clinicians to perform hearing exams with just a headset outside of a traditional soundproof booth.

For 1,200 U.S. Army Soldiers on an armored brigade combat team, mobile hearing testing “improved unit hearing readiness to over 95%,” said audiologist Lt. Col. Michael Murphy, U.S. Army liaison to the Defense Health Agency Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Hearing Center of Excellence in San Antonio, Texas. The Soldiers trained in a rigorous environment at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.

In preparation for the brigade’s upcoming mobilization, the Army identified Soldiers who were or would be overdue within 60 days for a hearing test, which threatened their operational readiness. The solution was so-called “booth-less” audiometry, which was successfully performed in an empty building with cots and makeshift tables.

“The test was a real success and shows that this advancement is a combat multiplier that can be used anytime, anywhere,” said PhD audiologist Dr. Theresa Schulz, Chief of Prevention and Surveillance at HCE In 2020, the Army purchased 169 automated, portable audiometers for 16 facilities, military hospitals and clinics that have a hearing protection program. “

“Since March 2021, boothless audiometry equipment has been used to obtain listening readiness checks on 9,000 soldiers across the Army,” Schulz added.

Technological advances for hearing preservation

Developed with innovative small business research funds, the cabless equipment was tested by the military services in a variety of remote environments to determine the viability of the technology. It is now available to service members in multiple environments, including spaces that typically do not have sound booth facilities such as:

  • Point-of-injury care in remote locations and military environments
  • Pharmacy waiting areas
  • Inpatient care settings
  • Primary care clinics
  • long-term care facilities
  • schools

Having testing capabilities both at home and in the field is a key advantage for warfighters. The mobile hearing tests can be used in the battlefield so that hearing-related injuries in deployed war fighters can be detected at an early stage.

“In-theater, booth-less audiometry would allow combat medics and other frontline medical personnel to provide hearing aids to service members in a timely and on-site manner,” explained Schulz. “A paramedic trained to use mobile audiometry would be able to provide hearing care at the lowest level of care, the site of injury – through to the highest level of care, advanced trauma. Delivering hearing health services at the site of injury allows for immediate hearing assessment and treatment, as well as the accurate identification and triage of service workers who need more comprehensive hearing care.

DOD guidelines require military services to each implement a comprehensive hearing protection program to reduce dangerous occupational noise exposures.

The US Army and US Marine Corps conduct annual hearing tests on all service members, while the US Air Force and US Navy conduct annual tests on service members who are routinely exposed to hazardous noise.

With the goal of increasing awareness and usage of boothless audiometry, HCE formed the joint DOD and Department of Veterans Affairs Boothless Audiometry Networking Group (BANG) in September 2020. The group serves as a way for many potential DOD and government users of mobile audiometry to “learn with and from each other,” Schulz said. For example, the group quickly identified an issue with the calibration of test equipment and worked with the manufacturer to resolve the issue, she explained.