Siemens Hearing Instruments (Piscataway, New Jersey) hoped audiologists were all ears at last week's American Academy of Audiology (AAA; Reston, Virginia) convention in Washington as the company rolled out new products and information related to its Acuris digital hearing system.
Available since November, Siemens calls Acuris the "world's most technologically advanced binaural hearing system" for the more than 28 million Americans with hearing loss. In addition to study results, the company unveiled at the Washington Convention Center a virtually invisible "open" version of the product and a new in-office ear impression scanner.
Acuris' ear-to-ear (e2e) wireless technology enables the left and right hearing instruments to communicate with one another and function as a single binaural hearing system. Included within all Acuris models, e2e wireless synchronizes the system's advanced digital processing and wearer controls.
Dr. Thomas Powers, Siemens' chief research officer, presented at AAA two poster sessions on a 40-patient study of Acuris conducted at four U.S. sites.
The first study centers on patient acceptance of the e2e technology, which is unique to the Acuris. The study, involving experienced hearing aid wearers fit with custom Acuris hearing systems, found that Acuris wearers reported less effort to adjust or control two hearing instruments using the e2e wireless communication in a variety of listening environments.
"In the past, we've had to have both controls on each side, and to find a push button vs. the volume control on one instrument for some people [like those with dexterity issues or decreased touch sensitivity] is problematic," Powers told Medical Device Daily. "We were wondering how patients felt about the concept of controlling both instruments with one control, be that on the right or the left ear."
In general, Powers said the study found "overwhelming acceptance." About 75% to 80% of patients found the e2e to be a "very useful operation" and preferred it over both controls on both instruments.
Patients who favored the e2e concept then were asked if separating the volume control and push button on each ear had some advantage. "Again, the same number, about 75% of patients, expressed a favorable rating," Powers said.
Acuris wearers also found the ePocket bi-directional remote control "useful in situations where they could discreetly control" the programs and volume, Powers said.
The pocket-sized remote is an optional accessory, he noted. "About 20% of people from a purchase standpoint actually get it, but of those who get it a very high percentage are happy and want to use it."
The other set of study results focused on feedback from those same 40 patients regarding the Acuris' noise reduction algorithm, which tunes out constant, stationary background noises.
"The main purpose of the noise reduction is not so much to improve their overall ability to understand – we have directional microphones and other speech enhancement algorithms that are specifically looking to do that – but one of the goals of the system is to make it more comfortable and/or to not degrade the sound quality," Powers explained.
The study found that overall, about 80% of patients were positive about those two aspects. Patients reported the noise reduction feature as "less tiring in terms of wearing and being around lots of noise, and that they didn't notice any impact at all on intelligibility," he said.
Siemens' other major focus at the meeting was to introduce the Acuris Life, a new, virtually-invisible version of the Acuris, which will be marketed to first-time hearing aid wearers and those looking for a discreet, unobtrusive hearing instrument.
Part of the Acuris family of hearing instruments, the behind-the-ear Acuris Life also features e2e technology that automatically adjusts itself to the wearers' listening environment. The company said the Acuris Life "represents the most technologically advanced, inconspicuous solution for the 392 people with mild to moderate hearing loss." With no visible controls, no ear hook and tubing less than a millimeter long, the Acuris Life sits discreetly behind the ear.
"One of the industry issues that we face is that many people have a feeling that hearing aids create a negative stigma," Powers said. "This is an attempt to create an instrument for mild to moderate users [with those concerns], because it is a very cosmetically-appealing product, nobody sees the tube, and it's not uncomfortable in your ear."
In contrast to traditional hearing aids, in which the ear mold fills most of the ear and requires several fitting sessions, the Acuris Life's open fitting solution does not require any ear impression, so people with hearing loss can be tested and fit in the same visit with their hearing professional. The open design, which features the newly developed LifeTip placed in the wearer's ear canal, also eliminates the "plugged-up" feeling that some wearers experience.
The Acuris Life will be available for sale in mid-April.
In addition to its Acuris products, audiologists were introduced to another new technology at the AAA meeting. Siemens unveiled the iScan, the first in-office ear impression scanner designed for use by the hearing care professional.
Powers said the hearing aid ordering process currently takes a few days, or longer if problems arise. "What we will introduce here is a totally integrated system where you take an impression of the patient's ear, you then place it in the iScan" which "scans the impression and creates a three-dimensional model of that patient's ear and ear canal. And now what we have is a virtual impression." Hearing care professionals then send the custom product order, including the digital impression, electronically to the manufacturer for production.
This means patients should experience better-fitting, custom-made hearing instruments with a faster manufacturing turnaround time, the company said.
"That's our real goal here, to try and help streamline and make [the fitting process] more accurate," Powers said, noting that it also allows the hearing professional to process the order at their convenience so "they're not tied to someone else's schedule."
The iScan will be available later this summer. Because Siemens has "several thousand customers in the U.S.," Powers said the roll-out is scheduled through the fall "so that all the customers that are out there currently in the marketplace will have access to it."
Siemens Hearing Instruments, a leader of wireless synchronization in hearing technology, is a division of Siemens Medical Solutions (Malvern, Pennsylvania).