Sensing Auditory Evoked Potentials

Protecting Against Tinnitus With Big Data

Thomas Rouse - Senior Consultant, Medical & Healthcare

By: Thomas Rouse
Senior Consultant, Medical & Healthcare

30th August 2017

Home » Treatment

We are being continuously monitored in our daily lives; from search engines tracking browsing habits, shops analysing purchases via loyalty cards or online accounts, and social media targeting adverts based upon our friends, conversations, and activities. While we may accept this as the cost of entry to the modern world, few would deny that it is evocative of a dystopian, Big Brotheresque hierarchy, where the monitoring is unlikely to be for our benefit. Health monitoring may be a nobler goal, however even a seemingly altruistic project, DeepMind’s collaboration with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to reduce preventable deaths from acute kidney incidents, has fallen foul of the public perception and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

There is a lot of excitement about data-driven health innovation, especially where the data can be collected automatically, and potentially uploaded or aggregated. This could allow for improved outcomes, more accurate diagnoses, early warning of conditions, advanced recovery monitoring, fewer hospital visits, and ultimately revolutionise the understanding and treatment of many diseases and conditions.

We have developed a wonderful technology which is able to automatically provide detailed characterisation of a user’s auditory system by detecting electrical signals from the cochlea and auditory brainstem. No more user interaction is required other than putting on a set of headphones, and no clinical supervision is necessary. It can detect permanent or temporary changes, and, with regular use at home or work, provide early warning of the onset of hearing loss and tinnitus.

The applications are driven by who wants to use the data, and why. The technology was originally developed to allow employers more cost effectively and conveniently meet their health surveillance duty, under the ‘The Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Workers with high levels of noise exposure need to have regular audiometric tests. It may be disruptive or impractical to send staff to a testing centre. There are also requirements after the tests have taken place. The purpose of the regulations is to protect workers, and if an issue is detected, action should be taken to prevent further damage.

The employer must also keep health records of the outcome of the surveillance; however, these cannot contain any confidential medical records. With our technology, these tasks can be automated without any need to leave the workplace. Beyond compliance, there is also a potential upside for the employer if testing can be made before and after each shift. In a case of litigation relating to hearing loss, it is likely that it could be shown whether the damage occurred inside or outside of work hours.

Individuals may be concerned about their own or their loved one’s hearing. Building the technology into consumer headphones was also one of the original motivations. For example, a smartphone app would be able to take regular snapshots of a user’s hearing and alert them or a parent if there is any change, long before symptoms become apparent.

Medical trials of drugs which may have a side effect of tinnitus would be able to use the technology to objectively monitor and record the state of the auditory system instead of having to rely on the subject’s subjective assessment.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, the data could allow the technology itself to improve. This double-edged information sword needs to be handled carefully. It is essential that no-one feels their data has been abused, so this needs to be balanced with the potentially significant benefits. The signal we record was previously only obtainable by an expert practitioner in a clinic, so comparative studies over time are limited. Long term data from a large number of subjects is likely to improve system performance and the wider understanding. It may shed light upon insidious conditions, such as hidden hearing loss and tinnitus, and provide a vital additional tool for audiologists as part of an integrated healthcare system.

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We are being continuously monitored in our daily lives; from search engines tracking browsing habits, shops analysing purchases via loyalty cards or online accounts, and social media targeting adverts based upon our friends, conversations, and activities. While we may accept this as the cost of entry to the modern world, few would deny that it is evocative of a dystopian, Big Brotheresque hierarchy, where the monitoring is unlikely to be for our benefit. Health monitoring may be a nobler goal, however even a seemingly altruistic project, DeepMind’s collaboration with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to reduce preventable deaths from acute kidney incidents, has fallen foul of the public perception and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

There is a lot of excitement about data-driven health innovation, especially where the data can be collected automatically, and potentially uploaded or aggregated. This could allow for improved outcomes, more accurate diagnoses, early warning of conditions, advanced recovery monitoring, fewer hospital visits, and ultimately revolutionise the understanding and treatment of many diseases and conditions.

We have developed a wonderful technology which is able to automatically provide detailed characterisation of a user’s auditory system by detecting electrical signals from the cochlea and auditory brainstem. No more user interaction is required other than putting on a set of headphones, and no clinical supervision is necessary. It can detect permanent or temporary changes, and, with regular use at home or work, provide early warning of the onset of hearing loss and tinnitus.

The applications are driven by who wants to use the data, and why. The technology was originally developed to allow employers more cost effectively and conveniently meet their health surveillance duty, under the ‘The Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Workers with high levels of noise exposure need to have regular audiometric tests. It may be disruptive or impractical to send staff to a testing centre. There are also requirements after the tests have taken place. The purpose of the regulations is to protect workers, and if an issue is detected, action should be taken to prevent further damage.

The employer must also keep health records of the outcome of the surveillance; however, these cannot contain any confidential medical records. With our technology, these tasks can be automated without any need to leave the workplace. Beyond compliance, there is also a potential upside for the employer if testing can be made before and after each shift. In a case of litigation relating to hearing loss, it is likely that it could be shown whether the damage occurred inside or outside of work hours.

Individuals may be concerned about their own or their loved one’s hearing. Building the technology into consumer headphones was also one of the original motivations. For example, a smartphone app would be able to take regular snapshots of a user’s hearing and alert them or a parent if there is any change, long before symptoms become apparent.

Medical trials of drugs which may have a side effect of tinnitus would be able to use the technology to objectively monitor and record the state of the auditory system instead of having to rely on the subject’s subjective assessment.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, the data could allow the technology itself to improve. This double-edged information sword needs to be handled carefully. It is essential that no-one feels their data has been abused, so this needs to be balanced with the potentially significant benefits. The signal we record was previously only obtainable by an expert practitioner in a clinic, so comparative studies over time are limited. Long term data from a large number of subjects is likely to improve system performance and the wider understanding. It may shed light upon insidious conditions, such as hidden hearing loss and tinnitus, and provide a vital additional tool for audiologists as part of an integrated healthcare system.

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