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Innovative breakthrough: first hearing implant patients followed up digitally in UZ Leuven

29 September 2022

For the first time, doctors and audiologists at UZ Leuven are testing telemonitoring on patients who received a cochlear implant to treat their hearing loss. Thanks to a new app, patients can be followed up digitally and have to come to the hospital for check-ups less often. The government recognizes the follow-up through the app as a form of digital healthcare, so it will soon be reimbursed.

People with severe hearing loss where traditional hearing aids do not help or do not help enough can opt for a cochlear implant as an alternative. That hearing implant is placed in the inner ear (cochlea) via surgery and electrically stimulates the auditory nerve.

Worldwide, about 1 million people have a cochlear implant. In Belgium, there are more than 5,000 of them, and about 500 are added each year.

Cochlear implant users require lifelong medical monitoring and regular hospital visits. A new digital application makes it possible to do some of the follow-up from home. This opens up a new care path for users, who can now choose further follow-up in the hospital or at home.

Prof. Dr. Nicolas Verhaert, a nose and throat otologist and head and neck surgeon at UZ Leuven: "More than twenty patients at UZ Leuven have already participated in a pilot project to test this new form of telemonitoring. The standard app linked to the hearing implant was expanded and now allows all kinds of functional tests and classic questionnaires from a distance. Thus the audiologists and myself can evaluate the patient's hearing via the app, check whether the implant is still working properly and provide feedback to the patient. Most problems can be resolved through the app. The app allows identifying which patients need a physical appointment at the hospital."

Student Artuur (19) is already using the application and is enthusiastic: "I find the app convenient: my hearing implants can be closely monitored without having to travel to UZ Leuven. Besides saving time, it is also pleasant to be able to do the tests at home, when it suits me best. For me, it is definitely a keeper."

Collaboration with another Leuven MindGate member: Cochlear

In people who hear normally, sound travels through the ear canal and middle ear to the cochlea (cochlea). There, sensory cells (hair cells) transmit electrical signals through the auditory nerve to the brain. When the hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear are damaged, a cochlear implant can stimulate the auditory nerve directly.

The digital application is called "Remote Check" and was developed by Cochlear, manufacturer of a widely used type of cochlear implant and fellow Leuven MindGate member. The app allows users to perform various hearing tests such as questionnaires, hearing performance, impedance measurements ... from home. European studies of Remote Check show that users appreciate the feature, recommend it and find it easy to use.

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