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Canadian mHealth Project Uses iPads for School Hearing Tests

iHEAR, launched in 2014 in Ottawa, will take its mHealth platform to schools in Montreal, Halifax and Saskatoon. Its developers have their sights set on a national program.

By Eric Wicklund

- Elementary schools in three Canadian cities will soon conduct hearing tests with an iPad, thanks to an mHealth program launched by the University of Ottawa Medical School. It’s the first step in what the medical school students hope will someday be a national program.

OMS students launched the iHEAR program in 2014, using an iPad and the SHOEBOX Audiometry app developed by Clearwater Clinical. Of the 400+ students in Canada’s capital city who were tested over the next two years, roughly 8 percent were found to have some hearing loss, and a dozen were diagnosed with serious hearing problems.

"The reality is, too few people have regular hearing tests, especially children,” Matthew Bromwich, an ENT physician and associate professor of otolaryngology and audiology at the University of Ottawa who sponsored the student-run outreach program, said in a recent press release. 

While federal guidelines call for annual hearing tests, Bromwich - who co-founded Clearwater Clinical in 2005 - said few school districts have the resources for those tests. Left undetected in school-aged children, he pointed out, hearing loss can lead to health issues related to speech, social and cognitive development.

The OMS students are now partnering with medical schools at McGill University, Dalhousie University and the University of Saskatoon to launch iHEAR in Montreal, Halifax and Saskatoon, where they hope to test more than 800 school children.

"Expanding iHEAR through partnerships with the medical schools … is a great first step to encourage the adoption of a national screening program, at the very least, but we have more work to do,” Adam Rocker, an OMS student and the iHEAR program’s coordinator, said in the release. “All Canadian children deserve the best chance to succeed. Our goal is to take the iHEAR program national, perhaps even international.”  

iHEAR is one of a growing number of mHealth and telehealth projects designed to help healthcare providers test school-aged children for developmental issues that, left undetected, could become major health issues as the children grow older. Health systems are teaming up with schools to run mobile health platforms that can test a student’s eyesight, hearing and speech, and even conduct some dental exams in rural and underserved communities.

Rocker said the program is also beneficial to the OMS students, all in their first or second year of studies.

“The beauty of this project is that even for those of us that have no experience in treating hearing-related conditions, the program provides practical knowledge that is otherwise unavailable,” he said.

Dig Deeper:

Factors Behind the Adoption of School-based Telehealth

mHealth for Children: 4 Concepts That Could Change the World


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