Cochlear implants and telehealth stand out as two of the stars on the short list of emerging health tech. Both developments are on fast paths to what looks-like-from-here wide implementation. Telehealth is regularly in the news and we’re on it like white on hospital sheets. In April 2017 we covered an Accenture survey that showed consumers are interested and ready for telehealth. In November 2017 we wrote about states modifying or enacting laws to allow telehealth services. This summer, in July 2017, we noted Cochlear Americas’ iPhone-compatible Cochlear Nucleus 7 Sound Processor. Last month the FDA joined in with an announcement that ties together cochlear implants and telehealth.
Cochlear implants are implanted electronic hearing devices that stimulate nerves in the inner ear. The implants aren’t hearing aid alternatives for the general population but can help people with severe to profound hearing loss. Candidates for cochlear implants are often children. The devices are also appropriate for people of any age who lose most of their ability to hear from a variety of reasons including genetics, disease, and traumatic injury. Telehealth relates to cochlear implants because of the need for periodic programming adjustments. The adjustments are intended to improve quality of life by helping patients better understand speech, remain comfortable in loud areas, and remain independent performing life tasks. Cochlear implant adjustments must be made by an audiologist. Traditionally the sessions have required office visits which can be burdensome on patients and families, especially if the patient needs adjustments frequently or lives at a distance from the audiologist.
The FDA evaluated data from a clinical study that compared speech perception, patient self-assessment, and cybersecurity measures of in-person and remote telehealth programming sessions. There were no significant differences between the two groups. As a result, the FDA approved telehealth follow-up programming sessions to Cochlear Americas, specifically for the Nucleus Cochlear Implant System about which we wrote last summer. The future implications for telehealth support for cochlear implants are huge, as are the potentials for additional appropriate telehealth implementations for a wide variety of health and health-related conditions or treatments.