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05.18.11 - Can you Hear Me Now?

Bob Wise, Sr. says the EarTrumpet produces results that are
"way better" than those from his $5,000 hearing aid. 
(Photo: Jack Kelly Clark)

Smart phones and other mobile devices are changing the way healthcare is delivered. Experts predict that by next year, the number of available mHealth applications will triple from 200 million to 600 million. By 2015, more than 500 million of the nation’s 1.4 billion smart phone users will run some type of phone-based medical app, creating a $60 billion market.

About a year ago, after delivering a guest lecture to a biomedical engineering class, Dr. Hamid Djalilian and the class professor, Brian J.F. Wong, both UCI otolaryngologists, discussed the need for less expensive hearing aids. Wong wondered about the possibility of using the iPhone, and after further discussion, the two decided to move forward. Medical student Alan Foulard contributed his programming skills to the project and six months later, EarTrumpet was introduced.

The app, which can be downloaded on an iPhone, iPod or iPad, features a self-administered hearing test that identifies user-specific frequencies that need amplification. The app imports that data and automatically delivers a customized hearing aid program.
“Based on the data from the hearing test, we give them the right shape for the hearing amplification,” says Djalilian, who guided the design. “If they have high-pitch hearing loss, they only get amplification of high pitches.” Users can “tweak” the results to improve them.
Jack Kelly Clark vouches for the product. The retired photographer read about the app in a UC publication and thought it might be the answer for his 90-year-old father-in-law. Bob Wise, Sr. had recently spent nearly $5,000 on a hearing aid but even after several trips back to the store for adjustments, it “simply made everything too loud.” Finally, Wise stopped using it altogether.

Clark enlisted the help of his sister-in-law, who downloaded the application onto her iPad. Together they approached Wise, who consented to the preliminary hearing test. “I could have told you that!” he bellowed to family members upon seeing the test results.
But after trying the customized program, Wise changed his tune. “I can really hear you now,” he said. A few adjustments later, he announced that it worked “way better” than his expensive hearing aid.

Son-in-law Clark subsequently bought an iPad Touch, downloaded the EarTrumpet app and gave it to Wise to experiment with. Now they’re awaiting the availability of Bluetooth since Wise doesn’t like being tethered to earphones. In the meantime, Clark, who has mild hearing loss himself, tried the EarTrumpet too. “It really does work,” he says. “The thing is so simple to use.”

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer