Nowadays you can get almost anything online. From ordering groceries to finding your future wife, the internet has almost anything and everything you can think of. Although online healthcare, also known as telehealth, existed before the coronavirus pandemic, the value of such services has arguably increased significantly as people appreciate the convenience of being able to access healthcare from the safety of their own home.
However, online services can have limitations. Does that dressing gown really feel as soft as it looks in the photo? Do those T-shirt sizes run larger or smaller? Do online hearing tests really work?
Online Hearing Tests
The World Health Organization estimates about 5.5% of the world’s population is living with disabling hearing loss, stating that many of the effects of such hearing loss could be lessened with early detection and then subsequent treatment or management. Currently, it is projected that the hearing health needs of our aging population will exceed the availability of trained hearing specialists – one study predicted the need for new audiologists entering the workforce will increase by 50-100% by the year 2040.
One method of addressing this current supply and demand imbalance in hearing health is the use of online hearing tests. There are various such tests available, often on the websites of hearing aid centers and hearing specialists, and can be accessed on a number of different devices, including desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. Due to the limitations of this method of delivery, these online tests are used mainly as a screening tool rather than diagnostic but they can be a useful way of alerting you to the fact that your hearing may need some more attention by a hearing specialist.
Good online hearing tests will typically involve more than simply playing beeps for you to listen to. Some tests will include a series of questions, such as your experience with hearing in different environments, whether you ever hear a ringing in your ears, or if you have a family history of hearing problems or any health conditions that may impact your hearing. After this may come the beeps or the test may ask you to identify a series of words or numbers spoken against some background noise. All these online hearing tests will (or should) start with a disclaimer explaining that the test is a screening tool only and does not replace a comprehensive examination by a trained hearing specialist.
For the best accuracy, it’s important to set up your environment and device as recommended by the specific online hearing test you’re using. You may have perfect hearing but if you try to take that hearing test by holding up your phone speaker to your ear on an active construction site you can assume those results are probably not quite accurate. Studies have found that hearing tests conducted at home are capable of providing reliable hearing information to help advise the individual about whether proceeding to see a healthcare professional in a clinic is a good idea.
The PROS of online hearing tests:
- Convenient and simple
- Usually free
- Improves accessibility for communities that may otherwise have difficulty getting a hearing test
- May encourage individuals to see a hearing specialist sooner if hearing problems can be confirmed via an online test at home
- May catch younger patients with hearing loss who would have otherwise not attended a hearing clinic in person
The CONS of online hearing tests:
- Results have the potential to be misinterpreted
- Cannot identify the underlying cause of any hearing loss
- Are unable to provide any treatment or management advice tailored to your results
- Although just more than a simple requirement, you must have ear buds, speakers, or over-the-ear headphones (preferred)
The Shoebox Online Hearing Screening Test
Shoebox Online was launched in early 2020, a timely service in the midst of coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. The company also makes a portable audiometer that can be used for diagnostic hearing testing by a healthcare professional without needing a full sound booth setup.
The Shoebox Online screening test can be used on either a computer or portable device and also contains a series of questions to gain as much information about your hardware setup, including the type of headphones you’re using to perform the test and how they’re connected to your device. After taking you step-by-step through calibrating the volume on your device then comes the fun part – testing your hearing.
At the end of it, the Shoebox test categorizes the user into one of three results – “significant loss”, “loss”, or “no loss”, with the company stating that this model has been validated using clinical audiogram findings. Needless to say, receiving a result of “significant loss” or “loss” is a good indication that a more comprehensive examination in-person with a trained hearing specialist would be a great idea.
The Shoebox Online hearing test has been warmly welcomed by the audiology community with users finding it to be easily understandable and simple to use while at the same time improving test accuracy by identifying multiple features of the user’s hardware.
Online services have proven they hold a valuable place in our healthcare system and not just for people trying to avoid a COVID-19 infection. The use of online hearing tools can be highly beneficial in increasing accessibility to the first step of hearing healthcare with a screening test and reaching people with potential hearing loss who may otherwise have never stepped foot in a hearing clinic.