March 2021 DocWire News

Technologies allowing home-based rehabilitation may be a key means of saving financial resources while also facilitating people’s access to treatment. After cochlear implantation, auditory training is necessary for the brain to adapt to new auditory signals transmitted by the cochlear implant (CI). To date, auditory training is conducted in a face-to-face setting at a specialised centre. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on health care, the need for new therapeutic settings has intensified.

The aims of this study were to assess the feasibility of a novel teletherapeutic auditory rehabilitation platform in adult CI recipients and compare the clinical outcomes and economic benefits of this platform with those derived from conventional face-to-face rehabilitation settings in a clinic. In total, 20 experienced adult CI users with a mean age of 59.4 (SD 16.3) years participated in the study. They completed 3 weeks of standard (face-to-face) therapy, followed by 3 weeks of computer-based auditory training (CBAT) at home. Participants were assessed at three intervals: before face-to-face therapy, after face-to-face therapy, and after CBAT. The primary outcomes were speech understanding in quiet and noisy conditions. The secondary outcomes were the usability of the CBAT system, the participants’ subjective rating of their own listening abilities, and the time required for completing face-to-face and CBAT sessions for CI users and therapists.

Greater benefits were observed after CBAT than after standard therapy in nearly all speech outcome measures. Significant improvements were found in sentence comprehension in noise, speech tracking and phoneme differentiation after CBAT. Only speech tracking improved significantly after conventional therapy. The program’s usability was judged to be high: only 2 of 20 participants could not imagine using the program without support. The different features of the training platform were rated as high. Cost analysis showed a cost difference in favour of CBAT: therapists spent 120 minutes per week face-to-face and 30 minutes per week on computer-based sessions. For CI users, attending standard therapy required an average of approximately 78 minutes of travel time per appointment.

CONCLUSIONS: The proposed teletherapeutic approach for hearing rehabilitation enables good clinical outcomes while saving time for CI users and clinicians. The promising speech understanding results might be due to the high satisfaction of users with the CBAT program. Teletherapy might offer a cost-effective solution to address the lack of human resources in health care as well as the global challenge of current or future pandemics.

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