It’s been a busy conference season. With our last event of the year now behind us, I’ve had a chance to reflect on some common themes I heard while speaking with so many of you this year. One thing I heard over and over was the wish to move out of the clinic, and take hearing testing on the road. And to do this, many of you have been looking to buy a portable audiometer.
Of course, it makes perfect sense. Often the people who need your services the most are the ones who simply can’t make the trip to your clinic. Perhaps they live in a rural community, or a long-term care facility, or they are students in schools who may not even know that they have a hearing issue. In response, many of you have decided to go visit them rather than make them come to you. And while you are looking for the tools that will help to make this possible, I thought I would give you a few things to consider when shopping for a portable audiometer.
Not all Portable Audiometers are Created Equally
Before you start comparing and shopping for a new system, you really need to think about all the ways you plan to use it. Do you want to perform full diagnostic tests out in the field, or are you only occasionally looking to perform simple screening? Would you like to fit and service hearing aids? Is this audiometer meant to augment another system and a sound booth back in your clinic or will it be the only one you have and use? Will you be the only person performing the hearing testing, or would you like other clinic staff to help out? You really need to think about what going mobile means to you and once you have a clear vision, make a list of the features that for you are ‘must have’, ‘nice to have’, and ‘not required’.
Things to Consider
Look for Ultra-Lightweight
Regardless of what features make it onto your ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ list, portable can mean different things to different people. For example, an audiometer that comes with a 20-pound battery pack is not nearly as easy to carry around as the new, ultra-lightweight tablet audiometers that weigh in at just 1 pound. In fact, they don’t require a battery pack at all. These long-lasting rechargeable devices are perfect for the traveling clinician. And if by chance you already use an iPad to perform other therapies, then you now have one less piece of equipment to carry from place to place.
How Does It Monitor for Noise?
Another serious consideration – especially if you want to perform full threshold seeking tests out in the field – is how your system of choice monitors and adjusts for background noise. If you are going to be performing tests outside of a booth, then you need to know that your results are clinically accurate. Investigate your options. Read the validation studies. The best devices offer advanced capabilities around ambient noise monitoring and have the research to back it up.
Go Paperless and Automate What You Can
Imagine a world with no more paper-based audiograms. The newest portable audiometers can be used to obtain a baseline audiogram and then when the patient is retested in the future, can automatically detect if there has been any threshold shift.
These new portable systems also offer secure, integrated web portals where results are automatically calculated then backed up to the cloud. Your patients and their test results can be organized in meaningful ways and you have a digital archive of their clinical results. You can even generate and export individual or summary reports for filing in other third-party systems as required.
What Accreditation Does Your System of Choice Have?
As mentioned earlier, not all portable audiometers are created equal. At a minimum, you should look for one that conforms to the current ANSI S3.6 and CSA Z107.6-16 requirements to be classified as a diagnostic audiometer. And because this is a medical device, you would be well-advised to seek out a system that has gone through the effort to be listed as such with the FDA, Health Canada, and EU – depending of course on where you are located and plans to use the system. As an added precaution, consider looking for a manufacturer who meets the very strict quality management requirements of ISO 13485 for medical devices. These are the folks who have gone the extra mile and put strict controls in place in their work environments to ensure consistent design, development, production, installation, and delivery of a medical device that is safe for its intended use.
Can the System Grow with You?
The nice thing about a software-based system is that it can continue to evolve with you and your practice. It isn’t just something you buy and are stuck with for the next 20 years. The newest systems are continually iterating with new capabilities being added on an almost monthly basis. Purchasing a portable audiometer is not an insignificant investment and it is nice to know that what you buy today will only get better in the months and years to come.
Was It Purpose-Built as a Portable Audiometer?
There are a lot of vendors out there who have been in the audiometry business for a long time – but there is only a handful who are 100% focused or portability. Many have simply taken existing technology and tried to make it smaller, often at the expense of important functionality. If I were shopping for a portable audiometer today, I’d look for one that has been purpose-built from the ground up to be portable, while at the same time not sacrificing any advanced capabilities or clinical validation.
So – Are You Ready to Go Mobile?
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list. I’m leaving it up to you to decide if you need features like speech discrimination testing, embedded questionnaires, bone conduction testing, extended high-frequency testing or even integrations with other systems. But as you start narrowing down your list of potential options for a new portable audiometer, these are some of the things that you might find helpful to consider.
Good luck in your search – and congratulations on your decision to go mobile. We commend your effort to bring important hearing healthcare to more people who need it.