Testing Widex Moment, the hearing aid personalised with AI
Hearing aid manufacturer Widex claim they can transform the hearing experience by using AI to personalise a range of sounds. We tested the device and its app SoundSense Learn to see what this involved.
Widex is one of the only hearing aid manufacturers to use artificial intelligence to create more natural, personalised sound environments. The app works by presenting users with A-B comparisons to begin understanding how they prefer sounds in particular scenarios. As well as having presets for speech, 'natural' sound, and music, each of these has three settings for added clarity, brightness or noise reduction, that can be easily turned on or off via the app.
Our tester is a music journalist in his 40s who has had hearing problems in both ears for most of his life. He was very impressed with the warmth and richness of the music setting, as well as how much different settings could be adapted. "It has an almost infinite capacity for personalisation and fine tuning" he said.
It's easy to switch between presets with a button on the unit itself without having to keep accessing the app. There are also separate volume and equaliser settings for each unit, meaning settings can be fine tuned for each ear. All these profiles are saveable and editable.
Another remarkable feature is its unique machine learning capability to analyse the acoustics and background noise of frequently visited locations. "With some user feedback it learns to automatically tailor the signal to your hearing needs and preferences, and if you connect this to your GPS, it will automatically switch to those settings when you're in that location. So it could learn to adjust or tune out the hum from an air conditioning unit if I taught it the "office" setting for example."
The hearing aid also allows you to modify the balance of signal between the app and the real world. "You can stream music quietly while still being aware of or "present" in your environment, like conversations in the office, or listening out for the kettle, or you minimise environmental noise while you speak on the phone."
"You can also change the directional focus of the sound, so if you're at a conference or lecture you can amplify the sound from the stage in front of you and hear less from the people chatting on either side of you."
Audiologists are on hand to guide with the initial fitting via a remote consultation, and tune the settings to fit with a doctor's prescription or via a simple online hearing test. They also provide ongoing support.
The units are incredibly discreet and barely visible compared to conventional hearing aids. "They're very lightweight and it's easy to forget you're wearing them. Thin Tube technology transmits the signal via a very thin wire instead of having to wear a large plastic lump sitting in your ear canal. This means the in-ear component is comfortable, barely detectable, and leaves your ear feeling "open" and able to breathe."
"The processor is spectacular for something of this size - it takes microseconds to process and amplify input, so there's no perceptible lag between "real" sound and the amplified signal reaching your ear."
Overall, he describes the hearing aid as "life-changing, in terms of its capabilities, performance, and most importantly the clarity and natural quality of sound. It feels like an audiophile enhancement rather than a disability aid."
Head of Audiology at Widex Lise Henningsen explains that they've spent years optimising their hearing aids with machine learning and AI. “Our studies show that hearing aid users have a significant preference for the personalised settings achieved through artificial intelligence and machine learning, and that 80 per cent would recommend the function to others."
“With AI, they are more like new lifestyle ‘hearables,’ which are key contributors to ubiquitous computing, just as virtual assistants and smart watches are” Henningsen added.
Getting ready for cloud data-driven healthcare
As healthcare continues to recognise the value of data and digital transformation, many organisations are relying on the cloud to make their future-forward and data-centric thinking a reality. In fact, the global healthcare cloud computing market was valued at approximately $18 billion and is expected to generate around $61 billion USD by 2025.
At the forefront of these changes is the rapid adoption of cloud-based, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), applications. These apps can be used to handle patient interactions, track prescriptions, care, billing and more, and the insights derived from this important data can vastly improve operations, procurement and courses of treatment. However, before healthcare organisations can begin to dream about a true data-driven future, they have to deal with a data-driven dilemma: compliance.
Meeting regulation requirements
It’s no secret that healthcare is a highly regulated industry when it comes to data and privacy – and rightfully so. Patient records contain extremely sensitive data that, if changed or erased, could cost someone their life. This is why healthcare systems rely on legacy technologies, like Cerner and Epic EHRs, to manage patient information – the industry knows the vendors put an emphasis on making them as secure as possible.
Yet when SaaS applications are introduced and data starts being moved into them, compliance gets complicated. For example, every time a new application is introduced into an organisation, that organisation must have the vendor complete a BAA (Business Associate Agreement). This agreement essentially puts the responsibility for the safety of patients’ information — maintaining appropriate safeguards and complying with regulations — on the vendor.
However, even with these agreements in place, healthcare systems still are at risk of failing to meet compliance requirements. To comply with HIPAA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 11 and other regulations that stipulate the need to exercise best practices to keep electronic patient data safe, healthcare organisations must maintain comprehensive audit trails – something that gets increasingly difficult when data sits in an application that resides in the vendor’s infrastructure.
Additionally, data often does not stay in the applications – instead healthcare users download, save and copy it into other business intelligence tools, creating data sprawl across the organisation and exposing patient privacy to greater risk.
With so many of these tools that are meant to spur growth and more effective care creating compliance challenges, it begs the question: how can healthcare organisations take advantage of the data they have without risking non-compliance?
Yes, healthcare organisations can adhere to regulations while also getting valuable insights from the wealth of data they have available. However, to help do this, organisations must own their data. This means data must be backed up and stored in an environment that they have control over, rather than in the SaaS vendors’ applications.
Backing up historical SaaS application data directly from an app into an organisation’s own secure cloud infrastructure, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure, makes it easier, and less costly, to maintain a digital chain of custody – or a trail of the different touchpoints of data. This not only increases the visibility and auditability of that data, but organisations can then set appropriate controls around who can access the data.
Likewise, having data from these apps located in one central, easily accessible location can decrease the number of copies floating around an organisation, reducing the surface area of exposure while also making it easier for organisations to securely pull data into business intelligence tools.
When healthcare providers have unfettered access to all their historical data, the possibilities for growth and insights are endless. For example, having ownership and ready access to authorised data can help organisations further implement and support outcome-based care. Insights enabled by this data will help inform diagnoses, prescriptions, treatment plans and more, which benefits not only the patient, but the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.
To keep optimising and improving care, healthcare systems must take advantage of new tools like SaaS applications. By backing up and owning their historical SaaS application data, they can do so while minimising the risk to patient privacy or compliance requirements. Having this ownership and access can propel healthcare organisations to be more data-driven – creating better outcomes for everyone.