Occupational hearing testing practices are in desperate need of innovation and modernization. Audiometers designed in the 1980s, printed records, old trucks with uncomfortable sound booths in back – these are all relics of the past and need to move aside for modern approaches that will bring improved efficiency, cost reduction, and better experiences for employees. In this article, we will describe the attributes of a modern hearing testing program and paint a vision for the future.
No one would argue that mobile technology has changed our world. Mobile technology has lowered the cost of computing and made us dramatically more productive. The same is true for the medical device industry. There are mobile medical devices for everything from monitoring cardiac functions, glucose levels, vision and, yes, hearing.
In hearing conservation, many employers and service providers have already embraced the shift to modern mobile technology. Why? Because tablet- or mobile-based testing systems are as accurate as conventional approaches while providing greater flexibility, portability, improved employee experience, and dramatic cost savings. By lowering the cost of hearing testing and increasing availability, more people can be tested in more places than previously possible.
However, it’s not just that the equipment is less expensive. The biggest savings are gained from reducing lost productivity. Traveling to and from a clinic, or even walking across a large industrial complex, can eat up valuable time. Once at the test site, employees often waste more time waiting in line to get tested. All this downtime can be reduced or eliminated by bringing the test closer to the employees’ workplace.
Cloud-Based Records Management
Printed records or PC-based databases are costly and burdensome to manage. Cloud-based solutions offer enormous cost and efficiency benefits. Within seconds of completing a test, Internet-connected mobile devices can upload the result to a secure, cloud-based records management system. Results and reports can be viewed from any location through a simple web browser. Audiologists and employers can collaborate together across locations to review data and administer the program.
Need your employee to fill out a form or to sign a test result? Mobile systems can help you go paperless through electronic forms and by using the touch interface of a mobile device to sign the signature block. Printing paper and filing results in a cabinet for 20 years is no longer needed. Mobile technology offers a secure and smart solution.
OSHA requires that testing be performed in a sound booth or in a quiet room that meets frequency-specific MPANL requirements. Going boothless is far less expensive but also more flexible. You don’t need to dedicate a room for hearing testing. Moreover, it allows you to bring the test to the employee – reducing travel time to and from the test. Mobile and workplace audiometers build ambient noise level measurement into the software, making measurements very simple. Some even include a calibrated Class 2 external microphone with every unit. Each day before testing, the room can be scanned for compliance. During the test, if a spike in noise is detected, the test is automatically paused by the software, and the administrator is alerted. To further reduce the impact of noise, these audiometers also use attenuating headphones that block a significant amount of ambient noise. OSHA MPANLs cannot be modified to take into account the increased attenuation provided by better headphones, but using them provides an additional buffer to ensure accurate results.
One of tablet audiometers’ biggest benefits is greater flexibility on when to conduct testing. The tablet is always available. Test employees whenever you need to. No longer do Health and Safety Managers need to schedule once-a-year annual testing over a single day or two. Gone is the stress of an employee missing a scheduled test due to illness, a family emergency, or the truck not showing up. You don’t need to give them time off to visit the local clinic, pay for their travel or parking expenses, or have someone else cover their shift. Reschedule the test for the next day they will be back at work.
With tablet audiometers, testing can be administered daily or on demand. Annual tests can be scheduled on start-date anniversaries, birthdays, or whatever schedule works best for the employer. Baselines can be set as part of the new employee’s onboarding process, not when the truck or consultant is scheduled to make their next visit.
In summary, we see that the future of occupational audiometric testing is mobile, cloud-based, paperless, boothless, and on-demand. There is no reason occupational hearing testing needs to be stuck in the ’80s. Amazing new alternatives exist now that can transform a hearing conservation program. Modern technology can improve efficiency, reduce audiometer prices, and improve employee care.
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Michael is a software entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He has founded two startups, Watchfire and Blaze, which were acquired by IBM and Akamai respectively. He sits on the board of four startups, advises two venture funds, and is an active angel investor. Michael is also a board member of the Youth Services Bureau Charitable Foundation of Ottawa.