Tablet Audiometry and the Evolution of Occupational Hearing Conservation
In the years since Apple released the first iPad, how we connect, communicate, receive and share information has changed in ways we could not have imagined. Nearly every industry – from automotive to music, retail, publishing, education, construction, even farming has taken notice. They have found ways to leverage the mobility of tablet technology and take advantage of these powerful computing devices. Even healthcare – an industry notoriously slow to adopt new technology – has found in the tablet a device liked for its portability, long battery life, and ease of use.
Occupational hearing conservation is another industry poised to be changed dramatically by this powerful platform. Tablet audiometry – typically comprised of software, the iPad, and a set of calibrated transducers - is now helping to change how occupational hearing conservation testing is performed.
And there are a number of reasons why hearing conservationists are ready to adopt tablet audiometry. The systems are compact, ultra-lightweight, and do not require an external power source or Wi-Fi to function. The best systems are optimized for use outside of a sound booth. This makes them perfect for both in-house programs and for services providers who are looking for tools to augment their mobile clinics. These truly portable audiometers make it possible to perform more testing in more locations.
If you are considering the purchase of a tablet audiometer, consider looking for one that lets you choose between OSHA and ANSI Maximum Permissible Ambient Noise Levels (MPANLs). It should also offer sophisticated background noise monitoring. This is what will enable you to use it outside of a sound booth, in a reasonably quiet environment. This kind of technology is proving to be a game-changer for occupational hearing conservation program managers who no longer need to send fleets of trucks across the country to perform testing. Nor do employees need to take valuable time off work to head to a clinic for annual evaluations.
Another important consideration – look for a system that offers multiple testing methods depending on your specific needs. There are units that offer both manual and automated testing modes. In 'manual mode', the system is fully controlled by the tester who selects the frequencies or the types of tests to be performed. These are typically the preferences of CAOHC-certified testers, audiologists, or other hearing health professionals. But in 'automated mode', the system offers a game-based interface that lets the employee – using pre-set configurations – self-test by dragging and dropping a series of icons based on whether they hear tones presented at various frequencies. Many have reported that their employees are more engaged in the testing process when they can interact directly with the test in this manner. And for some, not being limited by the availability of a sound booth means that more testing can be performed simultaneously. Regardless of which testing mode is selected, the system's output is a clinically valid audiogram.
For occupational hearing conservation programs, data management and reporting are key. You should look for a system that will allow you to organize and analyze employee data and test information, collected on the tablet, in meaningful ways. Cloud-based portals make it possible to import historical test data from a traditional system into the tablet environment. Results can be accessed and shared among testers or administrators, organized by projects or clients, and easily moved to other reporting systems, if needed. They can even alert, then generate OSHA-specific reports, when a threshold shift has been detected.
Although great progress has been made in occupational hearing conservation testing in the past decade, we believe that tablet audiometry will provide the next big leap forward. We envision an environment where more tests can be performed by more people in more locations and with less lost productivity. We also believe that by easing the identification, categorization, and reporting of threshold shifts we can lessen the burden of occupational noise exposure for everyone involved. Especially for our valued employees.