David Cannington | Forbes.com | Jun 29, 2020

The novel coronavirus has put a unique spotlight on the value of digital health when access is restricted to a large percentage of the population. However, it is not the only issue that necessitates shutdowns or reduced access to specialty health care. Wildfires and associated smoke pollution, floods, insurance disruptions due to loss of work or union disputes are just a few examples from the last few years which have disrupted patients’ ability to see specialty health care providers. Through this lens, we can see the crucial importance of intuitive user-friendly health services that can be accessed instantly.

Using at-home digital health tests to gather data and self-manage hearing health support become indispensable when you can’t visit an audiologist. This is critical because hearing loss is not particular to any age or gender, as has been widely documented. Over 60% of those with hearing loss are younger than 65, and the World Health Organization reports that just over 1 billion younger adults and teens risk hearing loss thanks to the rise of devices such as phones and personal audio equipment. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly 1 in 4 people between 20 and 69 have measurable damage to their hearing, but think they have no issue.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, using headphones for longer periods of time has increased hearing loss in adolescents. Hearing loss has been linked to a growing list of health consequences, including walking problems, an increased likelihood of falling over and a higher risk of memory problems, like dementia.

These health issues are not put on hold while the world waits for normal life to resume. In some cases, these shutdowns can further damage already problematic health issues. For example, when people with limited hearing are stuck inside watching TV at a high volume for more hours than their usual routine permits, or stuck inside with neighbors blasting their music at high volume with no escape, damaged hearing can deteriorate still further.

Standards groups such as the Digital Therapeutics Alliance in the United States, NICE and mHealth services for the U.K.’s NHS, and ORCHA for local NHS agencies in the U.K. partner with government agencies to monitor and track digital health providers and applications. The Digital Therapeutics Alliance recommends that digital therapeutics products adhere to good clinical practices (GCP), generate real world evidence (RWE) and offer clinically meaningful patient benefits. ORCHA evaluates health-focused apps for clinical effectiveness and the quality of the user experience they offer. The NICE framework for the U.K.’s NHS is recognized by app vendors for providing the highest standard for safe, effective and economical interventions.

These standards groups recognize and evaluate something that every consumer should look out for: that the core of the app or service provides a benefit to the user which is comparable to the support they would receive in a clinical setting. Another way to tell whether the app or service provides this benefit is to determine whether it’s based on a clinical standard that’s relevant to the health care area. For example, Australia’s National Acoustics Laboratories make the NAL-NL2 algorithm. This service is available in audiologists’ offices for self-fitting hearing aids and is also licensed by hearable vendors to provide an intuitive experience in the comfort of the users’ home.

For the smart healthtech providers who develop a clinically effective solution, how can you connect with customers during the pandemic and similar kinds of shutdowns? The answer is to meet customers where they are. The onset of the pandemic coincided with other trends, such as higher expectations from digitally savvy customers who expect greater convenience from vendors of all kinds. Other issues disrupting daily life prevent users from accessing specialty health care in person. Digital options and online delivery play a greater role in helping users access these specialty solutions at home and will prove a worthwhile long term investment. Users are responding positively to direct to consumer offerings from hearing health providers, as analyst firms like IDC and Juniper Research recently reported.

Covid-19 has changed many things about modern life. At-home digital health tests that gather data and self-adjust hearing health support take on a new indispensable quality when you can’t visit an audiologist or other specialist. The novel coronavirus is just one of many disruptions to daily life and the traditional health care model. Worse, these disruptions can also create a strain on already-delicate hearing health. With some research and understanding of hearing health needs, users can empower themselves to understand the best apps and services available for a convenient experience that provides high-quality health solutions.