Case Studies

How Technology Aids the Hearing Impaired

InSound Medical's patient management system improves customer service and eases data management.
This story appears in the June 2010 issue of BizTech Magazine.
How Technology Aids the Hearing Impaired
Behind the scenes, InSound deploys technology in unique ways to support wearers of its Lyric hearing aids, says William Fisher, the company’s IT systems administrator.
Credit: : Robert Houser

What if you couldn’t hear what your colleague said to you in an important meeting without looking directly at his or her lips? Worse yet, what if you couldn’t hear your daughter sing her first solo in the school play without annoying feedback from your hearing aid drowning her out?

Unless you live with hearing loss, such issues aren’t even on the radar. But for millions of people, living with less than adequate hearing often has meant bulky, unsightly hearing aids that generate feedback, require constant maintenance and at times don’t work very well

With these problems in mind, engineers and hearing scientists at InSound Medical, a business unit of Sonova Holding AG of Switzerland, developed the Lyric hearing aid, which contours to the ear canal, can be worn for months at a time and is completely invisible.

For hearing aid users such as Jonathan Lai, such quality-of-life improvements are Lyric’s main selling point. Diagnosed with a profound hearing loss as a child, Lai spent years trying one hearing aid after another, but continued to have difficulty playing sports, trying to understand speech in open spaces, and dealing with echoes and feedback. Those troubles subsided when Lai began using Lyric in the spring of 2009; today he is able to play basketball, talk with friends and family in noisy restaurants, and give presentations at work, worry free.

Behind-the-scenes technology contributes to a Lyric wearer’s quality of life, says InSound IT Systems Administrator William Fisher

Because the units are purchased by subscription, whenever one wears out, it must be replaced immediately. To facilitate this, InSound provides each practitioner selling Lyric with a Samsung Q1U-XP Ultra Mobile tablet PC running Microsoft Windows 7 and loaded with the company’s patient management system. This gives vendors access to patients’ audiology reports and demographic data in the system.

When a patient visits the store, the practitioner holds a stylus-like USB-based “programming wand” near the Lyric hearing aid, which programs the hearing device with the specifications from the tablet PC using magnetic pulses, explains Fisher.

Currently, InSound’s patient management system is updated manually at the company’s headquarters in Newark, Calif. But the process should be fully automated by the end of 2010, says Fisher, through the use of AT&T 3G Broadband Connect cards affixed to each field unit.

In Newark, the information will be received over a network outfitted with HP ProCurve switches and routing and firewall equipment from Cisco Systems and Fortinet. The data will be housed in a server farm, which will run the SQL Server patient database. The server also will run a web portal, which will allow InSound’s customer service department, as well as vendors in the field, to view and edit information.

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